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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Life of Walt Whitman » CHAPTER III TEACHER AND JOURNALIST
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The spring of 1836 found Whitman in New York.[55]

He was in his seventeenth year, had now learnt his trade, and had begun to write for the weekly papers; among others, contributing occasionally to the handsome and aristocratic pages of the Mirror, perhaps the best of its class.[56] He lived in that journalistic atmosphere which encourages expression and turns many a clever lad into a prig. Walt was self-sufficient, but there was nothing of the prig[57] in him. Limited as his schooling had been, he was naturally receptive and thoughtful, and his education went steadily forward; he made friends with older men, and with men of education from whom he learnt much. And now he became a teacher.

He was a healthy boy, but had somewhat overgrown his strength, and perhaps this was among the causes of his leaving the city in May, and going up Long Island into the country. He joined his family for awhile, who were living at Norwich;[58] and subsequently settled for the winter as a country teacher at Babylon, boarding round, as was the custom, in the homes of his various pupils.
Another picture of Walt's birthplace from a different point of view, 1904.


The little town of Babylon stands on the swampy inner shores of the Great South Bay, which is a spacious lagoon separated from the Atlantic by a narrow beach[Pg 29] or line of sand hills. This outer beach bears here and there a ridge of pine forest or a lighthouse; but for the rest, it is abandoned to sea-birds and grass, to the winds and a few sand-flowers scattered among the wind markings which are stencilled in purple upon the sand in some delicate aerial deposit. Outside, even upon quiet days, the surf beats ponderously with ominous sound, the will and weight of the ocean in its swing. Within, across the wide unruffled waters of the lagoon, populous with sails, is the far-away fringe of the Babylon woods, and over them, pale and blue, the hill-range above Huntington.

The bay itself is a glorious mirror for the over-glow of the sky at sunset or sunrise. Standing upon its inner rim at Babylon, as the colour begins to die into the dusk, you may see mysterious sails moving by hidden waterways among fields still merry with the chirrup of innumerable crickets; while beyond the rattle of cords and pulleys and the liquid murmur of the moving boats, beyond their lights that pierce the darkening water like jewelled spears, glimmers a star on Fire Island beach to greet the great liners as they pass by. In summer it is a field of many harvests; famous for its blue-fish, its clams and oysters; and neither the lads of Babylon nor their young master were behind-hand in spearing eels, catching crabs and gathering birds’ eggs.[59] In a hard winter it is frozen over for months together.

For the greater part of the next four or five years, Walt remained in the country, moving about from place to place, and paying occasional visits to New York. He is said to have been a good and popular teacher;[60] and if his equipment was not great, it was sufficient; he liked boys and had the gift of imparting knowledge. He took his work seriously, was always master in the schoolroom, and knew whatever passed there. He followed methods of his own; breaking loose from text-[Pg 30]books, to expound his knowledge and impart his own interests to his scholars. The element of personality told throughout his teaching; already it was notable as the power behind all that he did. An impression of himself, of his universal kindliness, of the sympathetic quality of his whole person, his voice and look and manner, and of a certain distinction and dignity inseparable from him, was retained by his pupils in after years.

His favourite method of punishment is worth recording, as characteristic of his power and of his theory of pedagogics. An admirable story-teller, he would chastise any scholar who had behaved dishonourably, by describing his conduct to the whole school, and without the mention of a name, the guilty boy or girl was sufficiently self-condemned and punished in his own shame. Graver offences were made more public.

In recess and away from school, Walt was a sheer boy, heartily joining in the most boisterous games and sharing every kind of recreation consistent with his kindly spirit. “Gunning” was never included.

Among the scholars there must often have been those of his own years, and the fact that he could preserve his status as a teacher while living on terms of frank comradeship with his scholars, declares him born to the office. They were mixed schools which he taught, and towards the girls his attitude was one of honest equanimity. He was the same with them as with the boys, betraying neither a sentimental preference nor a masculine disdain. Perhaps American girls with their friendly ways and comparative lack of self-consciousness, call for less fortitude on the young teacher’s part than some others; but Walt’s own temperament stood him in good stead. It seems improbable that he was ever subject either to green-sickness or calf-love, and he was no sentimentalist.[61]

Perhaps the idleness of which Mr. Spooner retained so lively a recollection, might have hindered his becom[Pg 31]ing an ideal dominie. His thoughts must sometimes have been far afield, his pupils and their tasks forgotten. It was not, as I have already suggested, that he was lazy; he worked hard and fast when his mind was upon his work, and best of all perhaps as a teacher in contact with human beings; but he was never so busy that he could refuse to pursue an idea, never so occupied that he could miss a new fact or emotion.

Like other young teachers, Walt probably learnt at least as much as he taught, if not from his pupils, then from their parents. Boarding with them, he came to know and to love his own people, the peasant-yeomanry of the island.[62]

He was a favourite with the friendly Long Island youths and girls of his own years, but his closer friendships seem to have been with older people: the well-balanced, but strongly marked fathers and mothers of families. He loved the country too, and all the occupations and amusements of the open-air, into which he had been initiated as a child. Thus he learned his island by heart, wandering over it on foot, by day and night; sailing its coasts and out into the waters beyond, in pilot and fishing boats, to taste for himself the brave sea life of those old salts, Williamses and Kossabones, his mother’s ancestors.

In the spring of 1838, we find him again at Huntington; and here, in June,[63] he founded a weekly journal, the Long Islander, which is still published. Full of interests, self-sufficient and ready with his pen, and in close touch with his readers, he conducted the paper for a while with success. He was nineteen and an enthusiast; and he was both printer, editor and publisher.

Like others of the time, his paper was probably a humble sheet of four small pages, and his task was not so heavy as it may sound. He thoroughly enjoyed the work, as well he might: the new responsibility and[Pg 32] independence were admirably suited to his years and temper. He purchased a press and type, and his printing house was in the upper story of what is now a stable, which stood on the main street of the town.

There he did most of the work himself, but I have talked with an old man who shared his task at times. And not his task only; for the printing room was, we may be sure, the scene of much beside labour. Walt loved companionship, and was an excellent story-teller; he loved games, especially whist, which he would play—and generally win—for a pumpkin pie. But when he worked, he “worked like the mischief,” as the saying is;[64] and when he said so his companions knew that they must go. They must have recognised, if they thought about him at all in that way, that while he made no display of his knowledge he knew far more than they, and while he was an excellent comrade, it would not do to treat Walt with too great familiarity.

As to his talk, it was clean and wholesome and self-respecting. He was too much of a man already to resort to the mannish tricks of many youths. He had, moreover, at this time, a tinge of Puritanism, which did him no harm: he neither smoked nor drank nor swore. He contemned practical jokes. Maybe there was less of Puritanism about him than of personal pride. He was himself from the beginning, belonged to no set, and went his own ways. He seemed to be everywhere and to observe everything without obtruding himself anywhere. And having purchased a horse, he carried the papers round to the doors of his readers in the surrounding townships. Often, afterwards, he recalled those long romantic drives along the glimmering roads, through the still fields and the dark oak woods under the half-luminous starry sky, broken by friendly faces and kind greetings.

But before the year was out the appearance of the Long Islander became more and more irregular, till the patience of its owner and subscribers was exhausted.[Pg 33] In the spring it ceased for a time, and when it reappeared it was numbered as a fresh venture under new management.

Walt had gone back to school teaching at Babylon.[65] He continued this work for two years more, wandering from place to place, now at the Jamaica Academy, now at Woodbury, now at Whitestone. He was, at this time, a keen debater and politician, an Abolitionist, a Washingtonian teetotaler, and ardently opposed to capital punishment. He took an active share in the stump oratory of 1840, when Van Buren of New York was for the second time the Democratic nominee for President. The fact, with the knowledge he always showed of the art of oratory, and the plans for lecturing which he afterwards drafted, seems to testify to a native capacity for public speaking, as well as a genuine and serious interest in the affairs of the nation.

Walt Whitman was becoming recognised as a young man of ability: in spite of his nonchalant and friendly unassuming ways, he had pride and ambition. He felt in himself that he was capable of great things, and that it was time to begin them. Not very clear as to what his proper work might be, he took the turning of his inclination, and early in the summer of 1841 entered the office of the New World, as a compositor,[66] to become for the next twenty years one of the fraternity of New York pressmen.

His first success was achieved in the August number of the Democratic Review, one of the first American periodicals of the day, which counted among its contributors such writers as Bryant, Whittier, Hawthorne and Longfellow. His “Death in the Schoolroom,”[67] appearing over the initials of “W. W.,” caught the public fancy, and was widely copied by the provincial press. It is the study of a gruesome incident in Long Island country life; by turns sentimental and violent in its horror, and evidently intended as an argument against school flog[Pg 34]ging. It has a sort of crude power and its subject matter would have appealed to Hawthorne. It is by no means discreditable; but to us it seems verbose, and it is clumsy in its exaggerated style. Lugare is shown to us at one moment standing as though transfixed by a basilisk—and at another, “every limb quivers like the tongue of a snake”.

Whatever its faults, they did not offend the taste of the hour: the Review welcomed his contributions, and some study from his pen appeared in its pages each alternate month throughout the next year, some being signed “Walter Whitman” in full. To the New World he had meanwhile been contributing conventional and very mediocre verses in praise of Death and of compassionate Pity.[68]

The remorse of a young murderer; an angel’s compassionate excuses for evil-doers; the headstrong revolt of youth against parental injustice, and the ensuing tragic fate; the half-insane repulsion of a father toward his son, prompting him to send the lad to a madhouse and thus wrecking his mind; the refusal of a young poet to sell his genius; the pining of a lover after the death of his beloved; the lonely misery of a deaf and dumb girl, who has been seduced and deserted; the reform of a profligate by a child; the sobering of a drunkard at his little sister’s death-bed; and an old widow’s strewing of flowers on every grave because her husband’s remains unknown: such are the subjects with which he dealt.[69] His wanderings in Long Island had supplied him with incidents upon which to exercise his imagination. Those which he selected have always some pathetic interest, while several have an obviously didactic purpose.

Whitman’s moral consciousness was still predominant: he was an advocate of “causes”. But his morality sprang out of a real passion for humanity, which took the form of sentiment; a sentiment which was[Pg 35] thoroughly genuine at bottom, but which in its expression at this time, became false and stilted enough to bear the reproach of sentimentality. In view of their author’s subsequent optimism, it is interesting to note that all these studies are of figures or incidents, more or less tragic.

Whitman was puzzling over the ultimate questions: the problem of evil, as seen in the sufferings inflicted by tyrannical power, and by callous or lustful selfishness, upon innocent victims; on the inscrutable tragedies of disease and insanity; and again, upon the power of innocence, of sorrow and of love to evoke the good which he saw everywhere latent in human nature, and which a blind and heavy-handed legalitarian justice would destroy with the evil inseparable from it. The more he thought over these problems, the more he recognised the futility of condemnation, and the effectiveness of understanding love.

The New World, upon which he was working, published the first American versions of some of the principal novels of the day; it reprinted several of the new poems of Tennyson from English sources and contained long notices of such works as Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero-worship. In November, 1842, it issued as an extra number Dickens’s American Notes, the sensation of the hour—the author having been fêted at the Park Theatre in February—and announced Lytton Bulwer’s Last of the Barons to follow. On the 23rd of the month, in the same fashion, appeared Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate, a tale of the times, by Walter Whitman. It was advertised as a thrilling romance by “one of the best novelists in this country”; and the proprietors of the magazine expressed their hope that the well-told incidents of the plot and the excellence of the moral would commend the book to general circulation. Nor were they disappointed. It is said that twenty thousand copies were sold. The book, then, achieved a tolerable success, and its author profited to the extent of some forty pounds.

Copies of Franklin Evans are now excessively rare,[Pg 36] and one may say with confidence they will remain so. For the tale will never be reprinted. It claims to be written for the people and not for the critics, and even the people are unlikely to read it a second time.

It is an ill-told rambling story of a Long Island lad who, going to the metropolis and taking to drink, falls through various stages of respectability till he becomes a bar-tender. He marries and reforms, but presently gives way again to his habit; his wife then dies, and he falls lower. Eventually he is rescued from gaol, and signs the “old” pledge against ardent spirits. Then he goes to Virginia, where he succeeds in fuddling his wits with wine, and marries a handsome Creole slave. Forthwith he becomes entangled with a white woman who drives his wife to the verge of madness, until a tragic fate releases him from them both, and the story concludes with his signature to the pledge of total abstinence. The author recommends it to his readers, and breaks out into praises of the Washingtonian crusade, foretelling its imminent and complete victory over the “armies of drink”.

The pages are diversified by Indian and other narratives impertinent to the plot, and by invectives against the scornful attitude of the pious and respectable toward those who are struggling in the nets of vice. The whole book is loosely graphic and frankly didactic, its author declaring his wish to be improving, though he will keep the amusement of his readers in view. He opines that in this temperance story he has found a novel and a noble use for fiction, and if his first venture be successful, be assured it will be followed by a second.

It is difficult to treat Franklin Evans seriously. That Whitman was at the time a sincere advocate of the more extreme doctrines of temperance reform can hardly be doubted. But in after years—the whole incident having become a matter of amusement to its author, not wholly unmingled with irritation when, as sometimes, it was thrust upon him anew by reformers as ardent as he had once been—he would laugh and say with a droll deliberation that the story was written against[Pg 37] time one hot autumn in a Broadway beer-cellar, his dull thoughts encouraged by bubbling libations. One suspects a humorous malice in the anecdote, belonging rather to his later than his earlier years. It may be noted, however, that while Whitman commended the pledge, he also commended a positive policy of “counter attraction” to all the young men who scanned his pages, to wit, an early marriage and a home, though he himself remained a bachelor.

Franklin Evans was honest enough. Young Whitman was serving the adorable Lady Temperance with fervour, if not with absolute consistency. He knew her cause to be a good one; but he found that, in this form, it was not quite his own, and he was too natural not to be inconsistent. He had not yet come to his own cause, nor for that matter to himself. And thus his essay became a tour de force; as he did not repeat it, we may suppose he was as little satisfied as those who now waste an hour upon this “thrilling romance”.

He was now in the full stream of journalistic activity. He wrote for the New York Sun, and appears for a few months to have acted as editor in succession of the Aurora and the Tattler.[70] In 1843 he filled the same post on the Statesman, and the year after upon the Democrat; while contributing also to the Columbian Magazine, the American Review, and Poe’s Broadway Journal.[71]

Probably none of these contributions are worthy of recollection. Anomalous as it may sound, from twenty-three to thirty-five Whitman was better fitted for an editor than for an essayist. He was clever without being brilliant; he had capacity but no special and definite line of his own. His strength lay in his judgment; and upon this both friends and family learnt to rely.

Several of the papers for which he wrote were party organs; it may have been that his political services in 1840 won him an introduction to the editors of the[Pg 38] Democratic Review, and helped him on his further way. In any case, it is certain that he frequented the party’s headquarters in the city. Tammany Hall was named after an Indian brave,[72] presumably to indicate the wholly indigenous character of its interests. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, it seems to have become the seat of a society of old Knickerbockers, gathered partly for mutual protection against certain groups of foreign immigrants who had shown a hostile disposition, and partly in opposition to the aristocratic Cincinnati Society presided over by Washington. During Jefferson’s Presidency it became a political centre, and was identified with the Democratic party from the time of its re-organisation under Jackson in New York State.

The Democrats failed to elect Van Buren, and were in opposition from 1840 to 1844. During the electoral struggle, a Baltimore journal had spoken slightingly of the humble character of Harrison, the Whig candidate:[73] better fitted, it pronounced, for a Western log-cabin and a small pension than for the White House. Harrison, like Andrew Jackson, was an old soldier: he had beaten the Indians long ago in a fight at Tippecanoe; and that, together with the simplicity of this Cincinnatus—the imaginary log-cabin, the coon-skins and hard cider, which made him the impersonation of the frontiersman to whom America owed so much, being all artfully exaggerated by party managers—caught the fancy of the whole country, which rang for months together with the refrain of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”. Harrison died immediately after his inauguration and Vice-president Tyler took his place.

In Tammany’s back parlour, Walt made the acquaintance of many notables, and not least, of an old Colonel Fellowes,[74] who loved to discuss Tom Paine over a social glass, and to scatter to the four winds the legends of inebriety which had gathered about his later years of poverty and neglect. But that Whitman was a violent[Pg 39] partisan even at this time, seems to be disproved by the fact that in 1843 or 1844 he contributed political verses to Horace Greeley’s Tribune, a paper which had grown out of the Whig election sheet.[75] And though, like his father, he adhered now and always to the general political tradition of the Democrats, was a free trader, jealous of the central power, and voted with his party till it split in 1848, he was as good an Abolitionist as Greeley himself. Indeed, both the Tribune poems are inspired by the theme of slavery, and as if in witness to the reality of their inspiration, he breaks for the first time into the irregular metres he was to make his own.[76]

A religious ardour breathes from these singular Scriptural utterances. The first, “Blood-money,” is a homily on the text, “Guilty of the body and the blood of Christ”. In the slave, whom he describes as “hunted from the arrogant equality of the rest,” he sees the new incarnation of that “divine youth” whose body Iscariot sold and is still a-selling. It is an admirable piece of pathos, fresh, direct and unmannered, and by far the most individual and striking thing Whitman had done. And it was the only one which could be regarded as prophetic of the work that was to follow. Especially is this felt in such lines as
The cycles, with their long shadows, have stalked silently forward,
Since those ancient days; many a pouch enwrapping meanwhile
Its fee, like that paid for the son of Mary.

The piece was signed “Paumanok,” as also was “A Dough-face Song,” which appeared in the Evening Post.

The second of the Tribune poems, “Wounded in the House of Friends,”[77] is inferior to the first in poetic merit, though adopting a somewhat similar medium. It is a rather violent denunciation of those intimates of freedom whose allegiance to her can be bought off—“a dollar dearer to them than Christ’s blessing”—elderly “dough-faces” whose hearts are in their purses. It was upon Northern traitors to the cause rather than upon the people of the South, that Whit[Pg 40]man poured out his indignation: and this position he always maintained. The Tribune itself was at the time an ardent supporter of Clay’s candidature for the Presidency; but Clay subsequently trimmed upon this very question, and this action, by alienating the anti-slavery party in New York, resulted in his defeat at the polls.

Whitman’s political poems suggest already that loosening of ties which separated him a few years later from the main body of his party; but in 1844, following the lead of advanced Democrats like W. C. Bryant, he worked actively for Polk, the party candidate, who became President.[78] We cannot too often remind ourselves that the later Republicanism of the ’sixties was supported by men who had been Free-soil Democrats as well as by certain of their Whig opponents. Meanwhile, it was to the Radical wing of his party that young Whitman belonged.

Though engaged in the political struggle, he was by no means absorbed in it. His profession encouraged his natural interest in the affairs of his country, but not in the political affairs alone. He shared in the social functions of the city and its district. He frequented lectures and races, churches and auction rooms, weddings and clam-bakes.[79] He spent Saturday afternoons on the bare and then unfrequented sand ridge of Coney Island, bathing, reading and declaiming aloud, uninterrupted by a single one of the hundreds of thousands who now fill the island with their more artificial holiday making and their noisier laughter. In those days one did not require a costume to bathe on Coney Island beach.

Nearer than Coney Island, Brooklyn Ferry was always one of his favourite haunts.[80] Walt had always loved the boat as well as the river; as a child he had seen the horses in the round-house give place to the engine with its high “smoke-stack”; the captain and the hands were old friends, and he never tired of watching[Pg 41] the passengers. Who does not feel the delight of such a ferry, the swing of the boat, the windy gleam in the sky, the lights by day or night upon the water, the sense of weariless and unceasing movement as of life itself? New York, on its island, is richer than most cities in these river crossings, which take you at once out of the closeness and cares of the streets into the free broad roadways of wind and water, roadways which you can scarcely traverse without some enlargement and liberation of the city-pent soul in your breast.

And in the city itself he had a thousand interests;[81] he went wherever people met together for any purpose; he had a critic’s free pass to the theatres and was often at the opera and circus, he frequented the public libraries too, and the collections of antiquities; but most of all he loved to read in the open book of Broadway. Up and down that amazing torrent of humanity he would ride, breasting its flood, upon the box-seat of one of the stages, beside the driver. From time to time he would make himself useful by giving change to the fares within, when he was not already too fully occupied declaiming the great passages from his favourite poets into the ears of his friend.

The fulness of human life surging through the artery of that great city exhilarated him like the west wind or the sound and presence of the sea. The sheer contact with the crowd excited him. And though he came to know New York in all its dark and sordid corners—and even an American city before the war was not without its shame—he won an inspiration from its multitudinous humanity distinct from any that the country-side could afford. Every year he grew more conscious of his membership in the living whole of human life; and the consciousness which brought despair to Carlyle, brought faith and glory to Whitman. He did not blink the ugly and sinister aspects of things, as many an optimist has done; he saw clearly the brothel, the prison, and the mortuary; his writing at this time, as we have seen,[Pg 42] deals largely with the tragedies of life; but humanity fascinated him—not an abstract or ideal humanity, but the concrete actual humanity of New York. For its own sake he loved it, body and soul, as a man should. It was not philanthropy, it was the wholesome, native love of a man for his own flesh and blood, for the incarnation of the Other in the same substance as the Self.

Very little passed in the city without his knowledge. He was in the crowd that welcomed Dickens in 1842;[82] and was doubtless among the thousands who celebrated the introduction of the first water from the Croton supply into New York, and hailed the pioneer locomotive arriving over the new track from Buffalo. Among the public figures of the day, he became familiar with the faces of great politicians like Webster and Clay; among writers, he saw Fitz-Green Halleck and Fenimore Cooper,[83] and made the acquaintance of Poe who was struggling against poverty in New York, and who became at this time—1845—suddenly famous through the publication of “The Raven”;[84] and won the more lasting friendship of Bryant, who was at that time the preeminent American poet, and held besides the editorship of the Evening Post, to which Walt had been a contributor.[85]

In February, 1846, Whitman was appointed editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle,[86] a democratic journal of a single sheet. The office was close to the Ferry, and he seems at this time to have lived with his family on Myrtle Avenue, near Fort Greene, rather more than a mile away. His editorials boasted no literary distinction, and were even at times of doubtful grammar; but they were direct and vigorous, and discussed all the topics of the hour.[87] When a New York Episcopal Church was consecrated with much ceremony and display, he would denounce the self-complacent attitude of the Churches; every instance of lynching or of capital punishment[Pg 43] would call forth his protest; he was faithful in his support of the rights of domestic animals; he approved of dancing within reasonable hours, and he advocated art in the homes of the people. Largely owing to his persistent advocacy the old battle-ground of Fort Greene was secured to Brooklyn as a park.

In dealing with the immediately critical question of relations with Mexico, while he anticipated extension of territory without dismay, he uttered his warning against the temper which prompts a nation to aggressive acts. “We fear”, he said,[88] “our unmatched strength may make us insolent. We fear that we shall be too willing (holding the game in our own hands) to revenge our injuries by war—the greatest curse that can befall a people, and the bitterest obstacle to the progress of all those high and true reforms that make the glory of this age above the darkness of the ages past and gone.”

The admission of Texas into the union, in 1845, was soon followed by a war with Mexico, which eventually completed the filibustering work of Houston by the annexation of New Mexico and California. This territorial expansion was pushed forward, as we noted before, by Polk and the Democrats in the interests of the South;[89] but the fact that it was Wilmot, a Free-soil Democrat, who introduced the celebrated proviso to an appropriation of money for the war, proposing to exclude slavery from all territory which might be acquired from Mexico, reminds us of the division within the party which resulted in a split two years later.

The country at this time was in a condition of feverish irritation; and the war spirit was only too easily aroused. In 1847, it threatened to burst into flame over a territorial dispute with Great Britain. America claimed the latitude of 54.40 as the northern boundary of Oregon, and for awhile, under the jingo President, the country rang with the insane alliterative cry of “fifty-four forty or fight”.[90] A spirited foreign policy[Pg 44] is the universal panacea of the charlatan; it is his receipt for every internal disorder, and it was continually being prescribed to America during the next fifteen years. This was indeed the charlatan’s hour, when the official policy of the dominant Democratic party oscillated between jingoism and what was afterwards known throughout America as “squatter sovereignty”. It was the repudiation of the Wilmot proviso, and the adoption of the new doctrine which Douglas afterwards made his own, that drove Whitman into revolt.

He was comfortably seated in his editorial chair, where he might have remained for years had his Radical convictions permitted. Though the owners of the Eagle were orthodox party men, the editor’s anti-slavery attitude was not concealed,[91] and indeed could not be. Their criticism of his editorials caused him immediately to throw up his post. He would not compromise on the question, and he would not brook interference. It was January, 1848, when he left the Eagle,[92] and a few weeks later he was making his way south to New Orleans.

Whitman had joined the “Barnburners” or Van Buren men of New York State, who now became Free-soil Democrats, making the Wilmot proviso their platform,[93] in opposition to the “Hunkers,” who denounced it. As to the Whigs, they burked the whole matter, and contrived in their nominating convention to silence the question by shouting. The Democratic party found its real platform in the nostrum of “squatter sovereignty,” the specious doctrine that in each new State the citizens should themselves decide upon their attitude towards slavery, deciding for or against it when drawing up a Constitution. To this, Lewis Cass, its candidate for the Presidency, subscribed. But the “Barnburners” put forward Van Buren, a former President, and a Democrat of the school of Jefferson[Pg 45] and Jackson, who was also supported by the “anti-slavery” party. His policy was to confine slavery within its actual limits: “no more Slave states, no more slave territory”. As a consequence of the Democratic split in the Empire State, the thirty-six electoral votes of New York were given to the Whig candidate, General Taylor, the Mexican conqueror, and he became the next President.

A whole-hearted Free-soil Democrat, Whitman’s position as editor of an orthodox party journal had naturally become untenable.


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