Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
New Orleans Crescent
Author:
Harris, Maverick Marvin
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Established in 1848 by J.E. McClure and A.H. Hayes, the New Orleans Crescent joined the Picayune and the Delta as the third major newspaper in the Crescent City. It became an immediate success, gaining 2,000 subscribers within a few weeks. The first issue was Sunday, 5 March 1848, but thereafter it appeared on weekdays only. Walt Whitman was associated with the fledgling newspaper from late February 1848 to late May 1848. 

The exact nature of Whitman's position with the Crescent is uncertain. Though he may have been an editor, likely he was not the sole editor. The staff consisted of Whitman as "exchange editor," a full-time editorialwriter named Larue, a city news reporter named Reeder, a translator of Mexican and foreign news items known as Da Poute, and Jeff Whitman, the office boy. Whitman's job was essentially twofold: to clip general news items in other newspapers received in the mail and thus make up the day's edition, and occasionally to contribute feature articles. 

The first issue of the Crescent contained Whitman's poem "Sailing the Mississippi at Midnight" and a feature story entitled "Crossing the Alleghenies." The next day, 6 March 1848, his impressions of Cincinnati and Louisville appeared, along with a controversial editorial defending Dr. Collyer's "Model Artists," a show with scantily clad models. Four days later he published "The Habitants of Hotels" and other sketches of people types, such as Daggerdraw Bowie-Knife, Esq., a murderous scoundrel; John J. Jinglebrain, a New Orleans dandy; and a sentimental lover named Samuel Sensitive. His popular "Sketches of the Sidewalks and Levees," though inferior to his prior work on the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reveal his fascination with New Orleans life and also his ability to mix pleasure with business. Some have judged these pieces to be flippant and sentimental, perhaps because Whitman was attempting humor, for which he was not well equipped. Better were the descriptive pieces about America's new frontier based on the notes he took on his 2,400 mile trip from Brooklyn to New Orleans. Though not as impressive as later prose works, these articles were notably visual and show his developing ability to see as a painter. 

On 25 May 1848, a mere three months after arriving in New Orleans, Whitman resigned his position at the Crescent, returned to New York, and started a weekly newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman. The reason for his sudden departure after such a short tenure is a matter of conjecture. Whitman has written that for some reason unknown to him, the owners grew cold toward him and irritable toward Jeff, who had been ill most of the time while in the city. A squabble over a cash advance precipitated the final break that ended Whitman's association with the newspaper and sent the two brothers home. Even so, Whitman later characterized his situation with the Crescent as "a rather pleasant one" (Prose Works 2:607).

Bibliography 

Allen, Gay Wilson. The New Walt Whitman Handbook. 1975. New York: New York UP, 1986. 

____. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 

Canby, Henry Seidel. Walt Whitman: An American. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1943. 

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

Whitman, Walt. Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. 2 vols. New York: New York UP, 1963-1964. 

____. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman. Ed. Emory Holloway. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1921. 

Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet. New York: Basic Books, 1984. 


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