“Leaves of Grass” a “Vulgar, Beastly Book”

We here at Forgotten Stories are not the what one would call fans of poetry, with the exception of a risqué limerick or two. But, we have read Leaves of Grass, and not only because our 12th Grade English teachers thrust it upon us; actually we rather enjoyed it . Imagine our surprise at reading the following contemporary (1856) review from Frank Leslie’s, which we present in abridged form:

“We find upon our table (and shall put into the fire) a thin octavo volume, handsomely printed and bound, with the above curious title. We shall not aid in extending the sale of this intensely vulgar, nay, absolutely beastly book, by telling our readers where it may be purchased. The only review we shall attempt of it, will be to thus publicly call the attention of the grand jury to a matter that needs presentment by them, and to mildly suggest that the author should be sent to a lunatic asylum, and the mercenary publishers to the penitentiary for pandering to the prurient tastes of morbid sensualists. Ralph W. Emerson’s name appears as an indorser of these (so-called) poems (?) – God save the mark! We can only account for this strange fatuity upon the supposition that the letter is a forgery, that Mr. E has not read some passages in the book, or that he lends his name to this vile production of vitiated nature or diseased ambition, because the author is an imitator of his style, and apes him occasionally in his transcendentalism.”

That volume that the editor confined to the fireplace is worth upwards of $40,000 today.

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