A wit said of Gibbon’s autobiography,” wrote Walter Bagehot, “that he did not know the difference between himself and the Roman Empire.” Something similar may be said of the career that Alfred Kazin (1915–1998) devoted to the two subjects that were of obsessive interest to him: American literature and himself. What he wrote about Walt Whitman in God and the American Writer is indeed a key to the temper of his own literary oeuvre. “Whitman, after his best work was done,” wrote Kazin, “never tired of summing up self and career, interpreting both in weary but friendly new perspectives. He never tired of self-portraits, especially when he discovered readers who thought him as wondrous as he did himself.” Like the author of Song of Myself, though more prosaically, Kazin too “never tired of summing up self and career … especially when he discovered readers who thought him as wondrous as...

 
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