May 31, 2019

Walt Whitman, Baseball Reporter & Poet Who "Knew The Value Of Our Incomparable Materials"

Walt Whitman, 28 years old, approximately
two years before he began writing Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman was born 200 years ago today, May 31, 1819, in West Hills, New York. He left school at age 11 and found employment as a printer's apprentice and typesetter, eventually working at, and writing for, many newspapers. Whitman began composing what would become Leaves of Grass as early as 1850, shortly after his 30th birthday. From its first publication in 1855 until his death in 1892, Whitman continually revised the manuscript, expanding its contents from 12 to over 400 poems.

Whitman was also a huge baseball fan. MLB's official historian (and author) John Thorn posted Whitman's "only known reportage of a baseball game" at his Our Game blog about three years ago.

Whitman's report was published in the Brooklyn Daily Times on June 18, 1858:
The game played yesterday afternoon between the Atlantic and Putnam Clubs, on the grounds of the latter club, was one of the finest and most exciting games we ever witnessed. The Atlantics beat their opponents by four runs, but the general opinion was that the defeat was as much the result of accident as of superior playing.

On the fourth innings the Putnams made several very loose plays and allowed their opponents to score nine runs, and those careless plays were sufficient to lose them the game. On every other innings, they played carefully and well, as the score will show. They were also particularly unfortunate in having three of their men injured in the course of the game. Mr. Masten, their catcher, being disabled from occupying his position on the fifth innings, was compelled to take the first base and his place taken by Mr. Burr, who in his turn was disabled on the seventh innings and his place supplied by Mr. McKinstry, the fielder, Mr. Burr taking the third base. Mr. Jackson was injured on the eighth innings so much as to be compelled to discontinue playing, and Mr. Ketcham was substituted in his stead, so that at one time no less than three men on the Putnam side were so seriously injured as to be unable to run their bases. Notwithstanding these accidents, however, the score is highly creditable to the Putnams (always excepting the fourth innings), and we doubt if any other club can show a better one in a contest with such opponents. The Atlantics, as usual, played splendidly and maintained their reputation as the Champion Club. Messrs. M. O’Brien, P. O’Brien, Boerum, Pierce, and Oliver of that club cannot easily be surpassed in their respective positions. Messrs. Masten, Gesner, and McKinstry, of the Putnam Club, also deserve special commendation.

[box score]
Filip Peraić, "Walt Whitman's Guide to a Thriving Democracy" (The Atlantic, May 2019):
Walt Whitman ... is almost certainly the greatest American poet. In many ways, he is also the most enigmatic. Before 1855, the year that Whitman published Leaves of Grass, he had achieved no distinction whatsoever. He had no formal education—no Oxford, no Cambridge, no Harvard or Yale. His life up to his 35th year had been anything but a success. He'd been a teacher, but he was loose and a bit indolent, and he refused to whip his students. He'd published fiction of a dramatically undistinguished sort. He'd edited a Free Soil newspaper, which opposed the spread of slavery into the western territories. But there was nothing remarkable about his journalism. Much of the time, he was a workingman. He was adept as a typesetter, a difficult and demanding trade. In the summer of 1854, he was a carpenter, framing two- and three-room houses in Brooklyn.

On his lunch break, he liked to read. Whitman was taken with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson that summer. He surely read ... "The Poet," an essay in which Emerson called out for a genuinely American bard. ...

Emerson was looking for a poet whose vision didn't derive chiefly from books, but from American life as it was. One sentence in particular in his essay opens the prospect of a new world—a new poetic world, and perhaps a new world of human possibility as well: "Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung."

Though America had been a nation for nearly 80 years, it was incomplete. ... What America lacked was ... an evocation of what being a democratic man or woman felt like at its best, day to day, moment to moment.
Not long after the initial publication of Leaves of Grass, Emerson wrote to Whitman:
I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it ...

I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.

1 comment:

Straddling the Border said...

Thanks for that interesting material on Walt Whitman. I come to joyofsox for your insightful baseball commentary, and so often I leave with that and more.