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Whitman’s Self-Reviews

Once again, these articles just astound me. Not only is he brazen enough to lavish praise on his own book–he does this in a style that makes it obvious that he’s the author, sometimes lifting lines from his own Preface.

The Charvat reading for this week teaches us that it wasn’t so rare for an author or publishing house to self-review in the 1850s. We might say, too, that Whitman isn’t just telling us TO read Leaves of Grass but HOW to read it–in his own eyes, maybe, the reviews are actually educational and not just plugs.

Even beyond that, though, the question I keep coming back to is, why is it so important for the writer who has cast himself in the role of “America’s Poet” to keep emphasizing his own body? Let me leave with this passage from “Walt Whitman, a Brooklyn Boy”:

Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect, free from taint top to toe, free forever from headache and dyspepsia, full-blooded, six feet high, a good feeder, never once using medicine, drinking water only—a swimmer in the river or bay or by the seashore—of straight attitude and slow movement of foot—an indescribable style evincing indifference and disdain—ample limbed, weight one hundred and eighty-five pounds, age thirty-six years (1855)—never dressed in black, always dressed freely and clean in strong clothes, neck open, shirt-collar flat and broad, countenance of swarthy, transparent red, beard short and well mottled with white hair like hay after it has been mowed in the field . . .

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