Michael Robertson Worshipping Walt:
The Whitman Disciples.
Princeton University Press, 350 pages, $27.95
The best biographies of Whitman reveal what one expects, the self-appointed Bard living in a bubble of self-proclaimed glory. That Whitman is best encountered in his own poems. If he had had any secrets a biographer would like to ferret out, he did such a good tidying up that even a century later the interesting questions about his life are still unanswered. Was he gay, in the sense we use that word today? We can’t say. How much of his grandiosity was an act, and intended to be understood as such? That’s to say, was he a charlatan? He was too canny to be nailed down there either. Sometimes he seems a Holy Fool after the fashion of Parsifal or Prince Mishkin, but he was also a shewd and resourceful self-promoter, who, when Emerson sent him a letter that praised his poems in the highest terms (it...