Leaves Of Grass By Whitman Some years ago, when a few copies of a volume called Leaves of Grass found their way into this country from America, the general verdict of those who had an opportunity of examining the book was that much of it was indescribably filthy, most of it mere incoherent rhapsody, none of it what could be termed poetry in any sense of the word, and that, unless at the hands of some enterprising Holywell Street publisher, it had no chance of the honour of an English reprint. Besides, it would be idle to deny that Walt Whitman has many attractions for minds of a certain class. He is loud, swaggering, and self-assertive, and so gets credit for strength with those who worship nothing that is not strong. He is utterly lawless, and in consequence passes for being a great original genius. His produce is unlike anything else that has ever appeared in literature, and that is enough for those who are always on the look-out for novelty.
He is rich in all those qualities of haziness, incoherence, and obscurity which seem to be the first that some readers nowadays look for in poetry. But, above all, he runs amuck with conventionalities and decencies of every sort, which naturally endears him to those silly people who take a childish delight in seeing the respectabilities of the world pulled by the nose, and what they consider its stupid prejudices shocked. Spoken by Mr. Rosetti, representing British Publisher of Whitmans Leaves of Grass. We can see no reason for considering Walt Whitman powerful.
Strong he may be, but it is only in the sense in which an onion is strong. His noise, bluster, and arrogance are no more indications of true strength than the swagger of the professional athlete at a country fair, who struts up and down the stage in salmon-coloured tights, and passes for a Hercules with the crowd from the way in which he feels his muscles in public. That he is American in one sense we must admit. He is something which no other country could have produced. He is American as certain forms of rowdyism and vulgarity, excrescences on American institutions, are American.
But that he is American in the sense of being representative of American taste, intellect, or cultivation, we should be very sorry indeed to believe. New he certainly is, but it is only in his audacity, and in the abnormal structure of his poetry; there is not a new thought in his writings from beginning to end.