Culture of Eloquence: Oratory and Reform in Antebellum America

By James Perrin Warren | Go to book overview

7
Whitman's Agonistic Arena

1

The evidence from Walt Whitman's manuscripts strongly suggests that the poet considered pursuing a career on the lecture circuit during the 1850s. On his birthday in 1858, for instance, Whitman writes the kind of self-admonition and assessment he usually reserves for his role as a poet, but this year the role is that of eloquent speaker:

May 31. '58 It seems to me called for to inaugurate a revolution in American oratory, to change it from the excessively diffuse and impromptu character it has, (an ephemeral readiness, surface animation, the stamp of the daily newspaper, to be dismissed as soon as the next day's paper appears.) -- and to make it the means of the grand modernized delivery of live modern orations, appropriate to America, appropriate to the world. -- (May 31-2) This change is a serious one, and, if to be done at all, cannot be done easily. -- A great leading representative man, with perfect power, perfect confidence in his power, persevering, with repeated speclinens, ranging up and down The States -- such a man, above all things would give it a fair start. -- What are your theories? -- Let us have the practical sample of a thing, and look upon it, and listen to it, and turn it about for to examine it. --1.

____________________
1
Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier, 6 vols. ( New York: New York University Press, 1984), 6:2233-34; hereafter cited parenthetically in my text as NUPM

-169-

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