But Fulton Street, Manhattan–in spite of its two greatest triumphs: Evelyn Longman Batchelder’s glorious figure of “Lightning,” and the strictly legal “three grains of pepsin” which have been a comfort to so many stricken invalids–is a mere byway compared to Fulton Street, Brooklyn, whose long bustling channel may be followed right out into the Long Island pampas. At the corner of Fulton and Cranberry streets “Leaves of Grass” was set up and printed, Walt Whitman himself setting a good deal of the type. Ninety-eight Cranberry Street, we have always been told, was the address of Andrew and James Rome, the printers. The house at that corner is still numbered 98. The ground floor is occupied by a clothing store, a fruit stand, and a barber shop. The building looks as though it is probably the same one that Walt knew. Opposite it is a sign where the comparatively innocent legend BEN’S PURE LAGER has been deleted.
The pilgrim on Fulton Street will also want to have a look at the office of the Brooklyn Eagle, that famous paper which has numbered among its employees two such different journalists as Walt Whitman and Edward Bok. There are many interesting considerations to be drawn from the two volumes of Walt’s writings for the Eagle, which were collected (under the odd title “The Gathering of the Forces”) by Cleveland Rodgers and John Black. We have always been struck by the complacent naivete of Walt’s judgments on literature (written, perhaps, when he was in a hurry to go swimming down at the foot of Fulton Street). Such remarks as the following make us ponder a little sadly. Walt wrote:
We are no admirer of such characters as Doctor Johnson. He was a sour, malicious, egotistical man. He was a sycophant of power and rank, withal; his biographer narrates that he “always spoke with rough contempt of popular liberty.” His head was educated to the point of plus, but for his heart, might still more unquestionably stand the sign minus. He insulted his equals … and tyrannized over his inferiors. He fawned upon his superiors, and, of course, loved to be fawned upon himself…. Nor were the freaks of this man the mere “eccentricities of genius”; they were probably the faults of a vile, low nature. His soul was a bad one.
The only possible comment on all this is that it is absurd, and that evidently Walt knew very little about the great Doctor. One of the curious things about Walt–and there is no man living who admires him more than we do–is that he requires to be forgiven more generously than any other great writer. There is no one who has ever done more grotesquely unpardonable things than he–and yet, such is the virtue of his great, saline simplicity, one always pardons them. As a book reviewer, to judge from the specimens rescued from the Eagle files by his latest editors, he was uniquely childish.
Noting the date of Walt’s blast on Doctor Johnson (December 7, 1846), it is doubtful whether we can attribute the irresponsibility of his remarks to a desire to go swimming.
The editors of this collection venture the suggestion that the lighter pieces included show Walt as “not devoid of humour.” We fear that Walt’s waggishness was rather heavily shod. Here is a sample of his light-hearted paragraphing (the italics are his):–
Carelessly knocking a man’s eye out with a broken axe, may be termed a bad axe-i-dent.
It was in Leon Bazalgette’s “Walt Whitman” that we learned of Walt’s only really humorous achievement; and even then the humour was unconscious. It seems that during the first days of his life as a journalist in New York, Walt essayed to compromise with Mannahatta by wearing a frock coat, a high hat, and a flower in his lapel. We regret greatly that no photo of Walt in this rig has been preserved, for we would like to have seen the gentle misery of his bearing.