I'm talking about "An American Primer," a long known, long available essay by Walt Whitman, which was reprinted in the April 1904 issue of The Atlantic. It's about one of my favorite topics, blunt speech — blunt speech, as opposed "delicate lady-words" and "gloved gentlemen words." Whitman — touting America and liberty — comes out for "coarseness, directness, live epithets, expletives, words of opprobrium, resistance." I love that sort of thing, and I think most of America — not the elite, not the civility bullshitters, but most of America — loves it.
So I was moved to blog about it yesterday, after I ran across it by chance, not in anything current, but in an old acrostic puzzle in the New York Times archive, way back in October 2011. I don't think anyone else was looking at "An American Primer" yesterday and getting excited about it and linking to the old April 1904 issue of The Atlantic.
But it popped up on Memerandum:
I guess it was a slow Saturday. But thanks, Memeorandum. Thanks for weighting me however much that was in your algorithm. And thanks for nudging whomever you may have nudged to see what all the buzz is about, whatever it was that Walt Whitman wrote back in 1856-57. I know what it was. I read the whole 6,000-word essay. Out loud. To Meade. And we talked about it for a long time, connected it to the Donald Trump phenomenon, etc. etc. So there were the 2 of us. But I just find it so delightful to think that — via the magic of Memeorandum — somebody else got the idea that "An American Primer" was the thing to talk about and got to reading and talking about it too.
And then there's the little corner of the internet that was my blog last night, and maybe — without the nudge of Memeorandum's absurdly false impression that "An American Primer" was a Topic of the Day — you read it or at least the snippet of it that I posted, and maybe you were hanging out at Althouse on Saturday night, talking with other people about the distaste for delicate lady-words and gloved-gentlemen words and a love for epithets, expletives, and words of opprobrium.
There was BDNYC, who said: "Unreadable." And kentuckyliz, who said: "I found it quite readable once I found the sweet spot in my bifocals." And Paul Zrimsek, who said: "I am yuge, I contain multitudes." And traditionalguy:
Whitman spoke like an earlier version of Trump because Whitman was also giving voice to an implacable will to be strong and free men. That is what made America Great the first time.IN THE COMMENTS: Ngtrains said: "Robert Morse? how about Samuel?" And I said: "Mm. Yeah. Should I fix that for him. Robert Morse... was he the actor in 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'?" I look it up. And it's just so damned Trumpian....
It started with Andrew Jackson defeating the murderous British in the West to save the Mississippi River Valley, and then took off with Robert Fulton building his steamboats and DeWit Clinton building his canal locks to go over the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport, NY to complete a transportation circle from New York City to the Great lakes and then down the Mighty Mississippi to New Orleans. And which soon saw Robert Morse building his single wire telegraph to carry the news.
Trump is a messenger and a builder. And nobody cares if he says bad words in his battle to make America Great Again.