Walter or Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Poet, was born in Huntingdon, Long Island. His mother was of Dutch descent, and the farm where he grew up had been one of his fathers family possessions since the early settlement. His first education was received at Brooklyn: at 13 he was in a printing office, at 17 he was teaching and writing for the newspapers (Brooklyn Freeman and Eagle), and at 21 was editing one. The next dozen years were spent working occasionally as a printer with sporadic literary excursions, but apparently mainly in loafing and observing his fellow-creatures. His first and most important poetical work, Leaves of Grass, appeared in 1855. This first edition contained only 12 poems(among these, the longest poem Song of Myself) and was published by Whitman himself. Notwithstanding its startling departures from conventionality both in form and content, it was well received by the leading literary reviews and also welcomed by Emerson. However, it didn't achieve widespread acceptance, and was strongly criticised in many quarters. Only much later, the author was convinced to suppress the more objectionable parts. On the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman volunteered as a nurse for the wounded, and rendered much useful service. The results of these terrible experiences were given both in verse such as the collections Drum Taps (1865) and The Wound Dresser, and in prose, as the critical writings Democratic Vistas(1871) and Specimen Days (1882). He was soon dismissed from his appointment to a Government clerkship on the ground of having written books of an immoral tendency. This action of the authorities led to a somewhat warm controversy, and after a short interval, Whitman received another Government appointment until 1873, when he had a paralytic seizure that rendered his retirement necessary. Other works besides those mentioned are Two Rivulets and Memoranda during the war (1873). In his later years he retired to Camden, New Jersey, where he died in 1892.
Whitman was one of the most unconventional writers. Revolt against all rules was in fact his self-proclaimed mission. In his versification he discarded rhyme almost entirely, and metre as generally understood; and in his treatment of certain passions and appetites, he was fiercely at war with what he considered the social evils of an effeminate community; yet there is real poetical insight and an intense and singularly fresh sense of nature in the best of his writings.
From Biographical Dictionary of English Literature - the Everyman Edition of 1910
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