May 8, 2016

How I made a Walt Whitman essay from 1856-57 look as though it was the talk of the internet yesterday.

I'm not referring to "Manly Health and Training," the set of essays, published under a pseudonym and revealed to the world last month, a genuinely a newsworthy matter, which really did belong on Memeorandum, the website that — through some mysterious automated process — presents a one-page picture of what articles and items are getting linked to and discussed.

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.

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.
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....


ngtrains said...

Robert Morse?

how about Samuel?

Ann Althouse said...


Mm. Yeah. Should I fix that for him. Robert Morse... was he the actor in "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"?

ngtrains said...

Samuel F. B.Morse was actually an artist of some significance. He studied in Paris for some years, and the telegraph was just an idea he had.

Laslo Spatula said...

Girl with the Pony Tail on the Treadmill:

The old Volvo he drove was cute, for an old car. Boxy.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Dinner was great. I'd even say charming.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

You don't find many instances of 'charming' anymore, really.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

He tells me about his job, and I just know it is six figures.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

But then he says how he is quitting his job to work full time on his poetry.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Poetry? You're gonna give up six figures for poetry?

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

No one reads poetry anymore.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Then he wants to tell me one of his poems, all excited..

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Like I'm interested in listening to a poem.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

And it's all about grass and ponds and birds and shit.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

If I cared about that stuff I'd watch a Nature Show on TV.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Who the fuck gives up six figures for poetry?

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

I should've known by the old Volvo.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

I mean, he could have afforded an Audi.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

Not anymore, though. Like I'm going to go off to work while he stays home and writes poems.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

He says he contains multitudes.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

I bet he didn't even write that himself.

(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)


(pony-tail swish, pony-tail swish)

I am Laslo.

buwaya puti said...

"How to succeed in Business" has been unfairly forgotten ...
And congratulations!

rhhardin said...

I put a tiny transceiver on my computer desk, finding room by moving a coffee cup, and have been sending Morse to New England this morning. A musical alternative to web surfing.

I'm still suffering from iambic paddle shock, where the thing takes your input and occasionally sends astonishing characters instead, me having reflexes honed long ago on a different kind of telegraph key. Habits to get over : (1) don't form final dashes to full length because if you're even a tiny bit over what it expects it sends an additional dash; (2) don't rest your fingers on the opposite side of the key or it starts inserting dashes in your dots or vice versa.

So far talked to MA (2), NH (2), CT (3), and VT, possibly one of the Whitman's home.

Morse lives, albeit not his exact code.

traditionalguy said...

I saw my Morse faux pas, but it was too late to go back. I congratulate the sharp eyed commenters. Morse was a Massachusetts Calvinist Presbyterian who deserved better from me. And he did change the world far more than General Electric ever will.

Phil 3:14 said...

I see FCRFCDRTCDR is getting into the Spirit of this blog.

Once written, twice... said...

Ann, I call bullshit on your declaration that you love blunt speech. My hillbilly meme goes to the heart of what is going on in the Republican Party. It captures in a blunt way the truth. As evidence of that, it puts you and your readers into a tizzy.

Deal with it.

buwaya puti said...

You are just venting spleen, calling people names, and etc. This is mere emotionalism on your part.
I challenge you to justify your dislike for "hillbillies" and their worldview with logic and statistics.
In what way is your judgement superior?

Fernandinande said...

Once written, twice... said...
As evidence of that, it puts you and your readers into a tizzy.

I'm definitely in a tizzy - perhaps even a dither.

Deal with it.

Usually I deal with your concise, enlightening prose by skipping it because the wisdom of the powerful intellect behind it shakes my world view to its core, resulting in a tizzy AND a dither, but, being quite inferior to yourself, I made a mistake and read it.

Chris N said...

If the algorithm that generates the site list is not personalized (for you) in any way, then you might reasonably assume you had some influence upon the data the algorithm is working with (incoming in the last week or so).

Char Char Binks said...

I applaud blunt speech, but I could do without all the barbaric yawping.

Chris N said...

Yeah, that 'hillbilly' insight...powerful stuff.

Maybe if you allow that word to echo in your mind long enough it can change reality, without even having to use your reason enough to explain what it means exactly, or to actually get some data, do some research, and see if it has predictive power in observing, explaining and maybe even predicting something happening in the world.

Yes, my friend, fame and fortune will be yours when the chattering classes vaguely understand the 'Hillbilly Hypothesis', as it confirms some bias or other and makes them more influential. Yes, helping them get more influence as they pass around your Think Piece like a note of hot gossip in 8th grade Algebra will get you more influence.

Get ready for the Ride Of Your Life! Better than being some anonymous commenter.

Or maybe because you've written a lot of comments here the brilliance of 'hillbilly' will influence the influential Althouse, who may be able to resuscitate some forgotten text by an influential poet, possibly enough for a Memorandum Home page site list algorithm.

Your time has come!

First the 'hillbilly hypothesis,' then.....the world!

chickelit said...

traditionalguy said...Morse was a Massachusetts Calvinist Presbyterian who deserved better from me.

Morse telegraphed his faith to the world with his very first message: "What Hath God Wrought."

J2 said...

Composer lyricist Frank Loesser most definitely deserves a tag. He also wrote "Guys and Dolls".

rcocean said...

Bill Clinton liked to give his girl friends "Leaves of Grass" after getting a Lewinsky.

So, I'm having 2nd thoughts about Walt Whitman.

Meade said...

Suppose he gave them Mein Kampf instead.

Would that cause you to have 2nd thoughts about Adolf Hitler?

chickelit said...

rcocean said...Bill Clinton liked to give his girl friends "Leaves of Grass" after getting a Lewinsky.

What was the central metaphor in "Leaves Of Grass"? -- I forget. I'm thinking it was about male lust and how quickly it grew back after being mowed. Please correct me.

rcocean said...

"Would that cause you to have 2nd thoughts about Adolf Hitler?"

No, it would make me have 2nd thoughts about Bill Clinton, and his girlfriends who accepted it.

chickelit said...

Whenever I hear "Walt Whitman" I still think about Room 222 and those short skirts.

rcocean said...

According to Geologist John Peter Lesley (a friend of Emerson), Leaves of Grass was "trashy, profane & obscene" and the author "a pretentious ass".

Maybe that's why Bill was attracted to the book.

rcocean said...

Thanks for posting that Chick. I never realized everyone was so damn old and well dressed at "Walt Whitman" high. All those "students" look like College Seniors at least.

Sammy Finkelman said...

rcocean said... 5/8/16, 1:55 PM

I never realized everyone was so damn old and well dressed at "Walt Whitman" high. All those "students" look like College Seniors at least.

That's a thing that's you see all through movies and television. Actos are usually oler than the characters they play, especially of the haracters are under 20. But this goes on till about characters aged 60.