Monday, August 21, 2006

Your Monday Morning Benediction for August 21, 2006

This morning's week-starter takes us back to Brooklyn, NY 1855, when a slim volume called Leaves of Grass was published for the first time. The edition was funded by the author, Walt Whitman, in a relatively small edition that only showed up New York City and Brooklyn stores. One of the most remarkable of the first wave of reviews (and if you know why, don't tell the rest of the class just yet) appeared unsigned in the September 1855 edition of the United States Review:

An American bard at last! One of the roughs, large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking, and breeding, his costume manly and free, his face sunburnt and bearded, his posture strong and erect, his voice bringing hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old. We shall cease shamming and be what we really are. We shall start an athletic and defiant literature. We realize now how it is, and what was most lacking. The interior American republic shall also be declared free and independent. <...>

Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all the attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature, talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such a being as a writer. Every move of him has the free play of the muscle of one who never knew what it was to feel that he stood in the presence of a superior. Every wood that falls from his mouth shows silent disdain and defiance of the old theories and forms. Every phrase announces new laws; not once do his lips unclose except in conformity with them.

And it goes on like that for quite some time. If all that sounds a little partisan, it's because the review was penned by Walt Whitman himself. There's nothing wrong with self-promotion if you can deliver. And if you can't deliver...well, at least it gives you a hobby.

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