The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

I. Whitman

§ 5. Early Writings

Whitman’s early pieces written in New York reflect the wave of sentimentality which was, in the forties, sweeping over the country, and display, along with their humanitarian feeling, a fondness for melodramatic extravagance which caused him later to wish them all “quietly dropp’d in oblivion.” He was a reformer pleading for the abolition of intemperance (including the use of tobacco, tea, and coffee), of capital punishment, and of slavery; and urging, as the constructive side of his reform, the need of a native American drama, opera, and literature. His interest in the theatre and the opera was a vital one, the constant satisfaction of which was made possible by his having a pressman’s pass. Here he received many hints for his declamatory and rhythmical style of verse. Altogether more than a score of tales, sketches, essays, and poems have been found which belong to this period. To these must be added a crude and hasty dime novelette, Franklin Evans, addressed, in the cause of temperance, not to the “critics” but to “THE PEOPLE,” and evidently written to order. In this period Whitman was connected with some of the best city magazines and newspapers as contributor, compositor, or editor. The most important position that he held was that of editor of The Daily [and Weekly] Brooklyn Eagle, a connection which extended from February, 1846, to January, 1848, when a “row with the boss,” on account of Whitman’s unreliability, and with “the party,” on account of his progressive Barnburner politics, made it necessary for him to shift for a new position. This was readily found on The Daily Crescent, a paper about to be launched in New Orleans.