Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Aldrich puts Whitman Behind Glass

To Edmund Clarence Stedman

Ponkapog, Mass., Nov. 20, 1880.

My Dear Edmund,-- . . . You seemed to think that I was going to take exception to your paper on Walt Whitman. It was all admirably said, and my own opinion did not run away from yours at any important point. I place less value than you do on the endorsement of Swinburne, Rossetti and Co., inasmuch as they have also endorsed the very poor paper of_______. If Whitman had been able (he was not able, for he tried it and failed) to put his thought into artistic verse, he would have attracted little or no attention, perhaps. Where he is fine, he is fine in precisely the way of conventional poets. The greater bulk of his writing is neither prose nor verse, and certainly is not an improvement on either. A glorious line now and then, and a striking bit of color here and there, do not constitute a poet--especially a poet for the People. There never was a poet so calculated to please a very few. As you say, he will probably be hereafter exhumed and anatomized by learned surgeons--who prefer a subject with thin shoulder-blades or some abnormal organ to a well-regulated corpse. But he will never be regarded in the same light as Villon. Villon spoke in the tone and language of his own period: what is quaint or fantastic to us was natural to him. He was a master of versification. Whitman's manner is a hollow affectation, and represents neither the man nor the time. As the voice of the 19th century he will have little significance in the 21st. That he will outlast the majority of his contemporaries, I haven't the faintest doubt--but it will be in a glass case or a quart of spirits in an anatomical museum . . .

-from The Friendly Craft: a Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom, Ph.D. (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 209-210.

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