Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Long Islander
Author:
Karbiener, Karen
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Described by Whitman as his "first real venture" (Specimen Days 287), this weekly newspaper was founded by him in 1838 in his hometown of Huntington. Whitman had been teaching school for three years and was clearly eager to return to journalism. Although the Long Islander is still in print today, Whitman's involvement in his project was shortlived: he sold the paper within ten months. He later claimed his restlessness had kept him from establishing permanent residence on Long Island, but a note in the Hempstead Inquirer of 20 July 1839 suggests that Huntington residents had not evinced a "desire to support a newspaper among themselves" (qtd. in Funnell 50). Of course, Whitman also may have grown tired of the too regular and time-consuming work. 

Whitman set up shop in a small building about half a block west of the Long Islander 's present home, bringing a press and an assortment of types. Upstairs he fashioned his frugal sleeping quarters; downstairs he performed his duties as editor, compositor, pressman, and printer's devil. In the evenings, the boys of the village gathered in the printing room to hear him read stories or some of his own poetry: "yawps" (qtd. in Funnell 46), as he then called his verses. 

As the Long Island Star had warned the nineteen-year-old editor, a country newspaper was a dubious business venture. Expenses accumulated because subscribers and advertisers often paid in potatoes and cordwood instead of cash. Whitman also found it necessary to buy a horse and establish a weekly 30-mile paper route through Babylon, Smithtown, and Commack. Despite the rough roads and the time commitment—the journey took a full day and night each week—Whitman later declared, "I never had happier jaunts" (287). 

Though there is no extant copy of Whitman's Long Islander, some of its content is available because newspapers of the time customarily borrowed articles from one another. On 8 August 1838, for example, the Long Island Democrat reproduced Whitman's article "Effects of Lightning" from the Long Islander; this remains his earliest extant writing. Whitman's poem "Our Future Lot," appearing in the Democrat on 31 October 1838, was also copied "from the Long Islander." 

In his later years, Whitman showed a sentimental fondness for the Long Islander. He reminisced about the newspaper's beginnings in Specimen Days, and he proudly showed his Camden visitors a copy of the newspaper he had founded as a boy. Richard Maurice Bucke reported that he and Whitman stopped in the offices of the Long Islander when they visited Huntington in 1881. Sinking into the editor's chair, Whitman took time to contemplate the changes that had come about since he had left. 

The Long Islander rarely mentioned its founder until George Shepard, the third publisher after Whitman, wrote a scathing review of Leaves of  Grass. As Whitman gained literary prestige, the Long Islander took more positive notice of Whitman's work; since 1959, the newspaper has published an annual "Walt Whitman Page" or "Supplement" to commemorate the poet's birthday. 

Bibliography 

Funnell, Bertha H. Walt Whitman on Long Island. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1971. 

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman : A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. 

White, William. Walt Whitman's Journalism: A Bibliography. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1969. 

Whitman, Walt. Specimen Days. Vol. 1 of Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. New York: New York UP, 1963. 

____. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. 1921. Ed. Emory Holloway. 2 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1972.


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