Tag Archives: Zachary Turpin

Walt Whitman … profoundly a New Yorker


In his sprawl, his vaunting ambition, and his humanity, Walt Whitman was profoundly a New Yorker. His poetry bore no little resemblance to the “mettlesome, mad, extravagant city” that he called home, and to the end of his life, he remained “a Manhattanese, free, friendly and proud.”

Whitman was born in the small community of West Hills in Suffolk County, and he returned often to the rural scenes of “fish-shape Paumanok,” as he called Long Island. But he grew up in Brooklyn, at a time when it was growing explosively, and proudly called himself a “Brooklyn boy.” Like his father, he found occasional work in carpentry and contracting, and that may have affected the way he thought about his poetry–with “the preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising, the hoist-up of beams the push of them in their places, laying them regular.”

New York’s expansion resembled Whitman’s own during the “seed-time years” that preceded Leaves of Grass. He later claimed that the poems “arose out of my life in Brooklyn and New York from 1838 to 1853, absorbing a million people, for fifteen years, with an intimacy, an eagerness, and an abandon, probably never equaled.” Although he moved to Washington during the Civil War and then to Camden, New Jersey, he never stopped revisiting the New York of his imagination. In a letter from 1868, he wrote, “I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the shows of all these things in New York more than any other mortal–as if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.” [italics added]

– exhibit label, “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy”; exhibition at the Morgan Library, New York, NY



CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here,
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores—city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!
Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me—whom you adopted I have adopted,
Good or bad I never question you— love all—I do not condemn any thing,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!

Leaves of Grass (1881-1882)


But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices
of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (excerpt)


The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (excerpt)


The exhibit label is vague about where Whitman actually lived during his years in what now comprises New York City. (Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate municipalities when Whitman lived there. Jamaica, Queens, where Whitman was a schoolteacher briefly, was then part of Long Island, where Whitman was born.) He grew up in Brooklyn; and, in the years of his adulthood prior to the Civil War, he resided in both Brooklyn and Manhattan at various times. When in Manhattan, he lived downtown in boarding houses in or near what is now the Financial District. When he was residing in Brooklyn, he often took the ferry to Manhattan. He was a regular at Pfaff’s beer cellar in Manhattan, which was located on Broadway near Bleecker Street.

Whitman lived on Ryerson Street in Brooklyn in the 1850s.


former Whitman home, 99 Ryerson Street, Brooklyn (Clinton Hill Section)

99 Ryerson Street

photos by Roger W. Smith


“Should Walt Whitman’s House Be Landmarked? It’s Complicated: The city does not think so, and the building’s owner agrees. Then there’s the matter of whether the poet should be honored in such a diverse neighborhood.,” By Jane Margolies,  The New York Times, December 24, 2019

‘Should Walt Whitman House Be Landmarked’ – NY Times 12-24-2019


— posted by Roger W. Smith




In 2017, University of Iowa Press published a lost Whitman novel (its existence was unknown to scholars):  Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which was originally published by Whitman in 1852 under a pseudonym and was serialized in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch. Zachary Turpin, who wrote an introduction to the 2017 edition, made this remarkable discovery.

If one reads the novel, which is set in Manhattan at around the time of Whitman’s boyhood — i.e., the early nineteenth century —  one can readily perceive Whitman’s familiarity with the City, which provides a setting and backdrop for the events and gives the story verisimilitude.

a disappointing review of two lost Whitman works



“Two New Old Books That Show Walt Whitman’s Different Selves”

New York Times Book Review

August 30, 2017


hi, Zack —

This review by Ted Genoways  is okay, but nothing more. Why did it take the NYTBR so long to review [two hitherto lost works by Walt Whitman] “The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle” and “Manly Health and Training”?

I thoroughly disagree with James McWilliams (“Against Rediscovery: Why the ‘Lost Novel’ Phenomenon Hurts Readers,” Paris Review, May 22, 2017). In the case of a Whitman or James Joyce, the discovery of a lost work or fragment, or of a lost letter, is cause for rejoicing.

I also feel that Genoways gives Whitman’s lost works “Jack Engle” and “Manly Health and Training,” which you have unearthed — remarkably — shorter shrift than they deserve.


Best wishes,

Roger Smith


— email to Zachary Turpin, September 3, 2017

was Walt Whitman “politically corrected”?


As noted in a recent New York Times article

“In a Walt Whitman Novel, Lost for 165 Years, Clues to ‘Leaves of Grass

By Jennifer Schuessler

The New York Times, February 20, 2017


Zachary Turpin, a graduate student at the University of Houston, has recently discovered — which is to say found and published — the manuscript of a “lost” Walt Whitman novel.

The novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, was published anonymously by Whitman as a serial in a newspaper, The New York Atlas, in 1858. The novel has been published online by The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and in book form by the University of Iowa Press. I have read it already. It’s a good read.

While I was reading the novel and subsequently, I had the following exchange of emails with Mr. Turpin, whom I have had the good fortune to since meet.

See emails below.


— Roger W. Smith

    June 2017




Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

March 13, 2017

Dear Mr. Turpin,

I am currently reading “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle.” What a find!

A real reading pleasure for a Whitman lover such as myself.

On the third line of page 53, I noted the words, in quoted dialogue: ‘the world to some’

Shouldn’t it be the world to come?


Zachary Turpin to Roger Smith

March 13, 2017

Roger — Many thanks for your email! It should indeed be “the world to come”—good eye.

Call it a coincidence, but a friend and fellow Whitmanian just emailed me to say the same thing, shortly after you. Great minds. Anyway, I’ll forward this along to the University of Iowa Press, since I know they’ll want to hear about it.

Thank you for your kind message.


Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

May 30, 2017

Dear Zack,

Hello. I consider it my good fortune to have met you briefly at the American Literature Association conference on Thursday.

I am still wondering about a couple of words on page 95 of “Jack Engle”: “… the reader must supply it from his or her imagination.”

It’s bothering me — perhaps it shouldn’t. But, I keep wondering, is that what Whitman really wrote? Seems very uncommon for a nineteenth century writer, even one such as Whitman who could be considered to have been ahead of his time on many (but not all) issues, to have used “him or her.” But, then it’s entirely possible that he did. Or, did a zealous copyeditor change “his” to “his or her”?


Zachary Turpin to Roger Smith

May 30, 2017


Yep, I hear you, it seems uncommon—but then Whitman was anything but common for his era. His egalitarianism extended to men and women right from the very first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855):

To pass among them . . to touch any one . . .. to rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment … what is this then?

And again:

Each has his or her place in the procession.

Three more instances appear in the 1856 edition:

Each of us limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,…..

They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full,….

Of authors and editors I do not know how many there are in The States, but there are thousands, each one building his or her step to the stairs by which giants shall mount.

And so on. There are many others. 1881:

Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the aesthetic or intellectual,….

Or in 1892, in “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads”:

The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine.

And that’s just in his poetry! His journalism, reminiscences, interviews, and fiction contain more.

So, I think one of two things may be at issue here. Either (1) this construction came about earlier than it may seem to have, or (2) when it comes to even the smallest gender-equality issues, like pronouns, Whitman was still more conscientious and forward-thinking than his contemporaries. Or both, of course!

In any case, I bet you could write a very interesting piece on the “his or her” construction in 19th-century American writings, especially in its relation to democratic poetics.


Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

May 30, 2017



You’ve convinced me.



Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

June 3, 2017


I told you I would get back to you again.

I am finally getting around to it.

I want to thank you again for you reply, which was very informative and so thorough. Much appreciated.

I now see that Whitman was way ahead of his time when it came to “gender inclusive” grammatical constructions. A very cumbersome way to put it. Sorry.

I guess I should have known better when it comes to the poet who wrote:

Think of womanhood, and you to be a woman;
The creation is womanhood;
Have I not said that womanhood involves all?
Have I not told how the universe has nothing better
than the best womanhood?

I guess what one might say that, for someone completely original and also possessing intuitive genius, as was true of Whitman, grammatical norms don’t necessarily account for that much. He was capable of inventing his own “grammar” when it suited him.


'Life and Adventures of Jack Engle' - cover.jpg