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horse & buggy – digital museum.
Posted on November 17th, 2009 at 6:06 pm by Rachel E. Miller

Horse and Buggy

(image credit: William J. Milne Progressive Arithmetic (New York: American Book Company, 1912)43)

In 1885, Philadelphia lawyer, Thomas Donaldson, planned to buy Walt Whitman a horse and buggy. This expensive gift required donations from Whitman’s extensive social network, including Mark Twain and Oliver Wendell Holmes.  According to David S. Reynolds, on September 17, 1885, a new horse and buggy awaited Whitman on Mickle Street, clearly visible from Whitman’s bedroom window. The gift was a pleasant surprise for the poet. Despite his elderly age, Whitman was immediately taken with this new-fangled form of transportation and he enjoyed the horse’s ability race down the streets, rapidly moving by shops and row homes. Reynolds’s cultural biography makes the claim that while he rode in the buggy, Whitman “displayed agility and sometimes reckless speed, in guiding his horse, Frank, through the Camden streets” (553) and Reynolds describes Whitman’s driver, William Duckett, as a “rougish teenager” (553). But Frank wasn’t even quick enough to suit Whitman’s desire to wildly race through Camden. Reynold’s states that after five months “Whitman sold his horse, Frank, [and] got a faster one, Nettie, but he had to give up the carriage after his strokes in June 1888” (553). Even though Whitman only owned a horse and buggy for roughly three years, it was America’s most popular form of transportation the later half of the nineteenth century.


(image credit: Foster, Ellsworth D. The American Educator (Chicago: Ralph Durham Company, 1921) 592)

What exactly was the purpose and structure of the buggy? According to the OED, the buggy itself is “a light one-horse (sometimes two horse) vehicle, for one or two persons. Those in use in America have four wheels” (OED 1a), differing from the two wheeled carriages common in England. These wagons were designed to have strong pulling efficiency even when the horses were given a heavy load, and people enjoyed riding in the buggies to reach their destination in a timely manner. Whitman’s own horse and buggy cost a sum of $320, indicating this transportation was reserved for people who had an adequate amount of money. Reynolds illustrates Whitman’s gift for the reader, saying it included “a horse, a leather-lined phaeton, a whip, halter, and lap blanket” (553). The last item useful for the colder winter months, making a horse ride a pleasant experience for all times of the year, not limiting the horse’s usefulness for the warm summer months.

Clay McShane’s article, “Gelded Age Boston,” discusses the growth and usefulness of horses and buggies in 1880’s Boston, a city not too far north from Camden. The historical article discusses how, depending on the individual owners’ wishes and purposes, different horse breeds were suited for different businesses. For example, “breweries preferred Clydesdales, unsuited to the North American climate but handsome high-steppers that provided good publicity for the industries they represented” (291) and carriage owners, like Whitman, “preferred light, young, agile animals” (291).

Regardless of the benefits, owners of horses and buggies faced several challenges, especially people like Whitman, who lived in an urban neighborhood. The urban surroundings were laden with diseases that could easily spread to the animals, rendering them useless. McShane’s research shows that although “farriers (horseshoers) served as folk practitioners of veterinary medicine . . . their nostrums would not do in an age that increasingly valued professionalization” (287). In order to combat this issue, veterinary medicine developed into a new profession to care for the equine population and “Harvard opened [the first] veterinary school in 1882, which was active until 1904, roughly when urban horses began to lose their importance” (287). The school’s curriculum focused entirely on the well-being of draft animals.

Animal abuse was also a major concern in cities and in 1868, George Angell attempted to quell the problem by founding the MSPCA or Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The MSPCA revealed “astonishing examples of cruelty, including the practice of lighting fire under a horse to urge him to start pulling a heavy load,” and the MSPCA publicly denounced these incidents  to raise awareness among potential horse and buggy owners.

By the 1910’s, the development and eventual market for automobiles diminished the use for the horse and buggy.  McShane’s conclusion states “they had all but faded from view” (300), being a image of America’s past and Whitman’s later life.


(image credit: Charles D. Maginnis Pen Drawings an Illustrated Treatise (Boston: Bates & Guild Company, 1903) 57)

Works Cited

McShane, Clay. “Gelded Age Boston.” The New England Quarterly, Inc. 74.2 (June 2001): 274-302.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

“osceloa” annotation.
Posted on November 11th, 2009 at 10:02 am by Rachel E. Miller

For my explication, I was assigned Whitman’s poem “Osceloa.” This particular piece describes the death of the Seminole Chief Osceloa, an event that haunted Whitman for many years of his life, and according to scholar David S. Reynolds, Whitman owned Caltin’s painting of Osceloa as a reminder of the chief’s demise at the hand’s of the American military. In “Osceola,” Whitman simultaneously combines the both the aesthetic beauty of Native American art and culture as well as Osceola’s humanity such as his poignant emotions and the demise of his fatherly strength and masculinity.

The complete explication can be downloaded at the following link: http://rachmill.lookingforwhitman.org/files/2009/11/ExplicationFinal.doc

Bibliographic Essay & Whitman’s Masculinity.
Posted on November 11th, 2009 at 9:50 am by Rachel E. Miller

For the past two years, Masculinity Studies has been a great academic interest of mine. In my final research paper, I intend to explore the dynamics of Masculinity in Walt Whitman’s poetry. Currently my research can take three possible directions: Whitman’s “common man” as the ideal representation of the masculinity, Whitman’s poetic criticism of patriarchy and bourgeois manliness, creation of a manly self-identity to persevere in Western society, and the fear of castration and self-anxiety in Whitman’s poems.

My complete essay can be found at the following link: http://rachmill.lookingforwhitman.org/files/2009/11/Bibliographic-Essay1.doc


whitman’s “osceola” and new historicism.
Posted on October 7th, 2009 at 10:50 am by Rachel E. Miller

Having completed my final explication on Walt Whitman’s poem, “Osceola,” I feel like I have a deeper connection with Whitman’s poetic portrayal of historical figures and the Seminole tribe’s culture, which is illustrated in the poem through the use of war paint and tomahawk. When I finished my readings, I strongly felt that New Historicism could be applied to the poem’s context, because of Whitman’s ability to write clear images about Native American culture and humanity, which informs the reader greatly about the time period, beyond what mere dates and names could describe.

New Historicism assumes the fact that “history is not linearly progressive and is not reducible to the activities of prominent individuals” (Donald E. Hall 302), meaning history should focus on the day-to-day events, the supposedly “mundane” objects and the common lives of all people, including women and children. Although the poem’s central character is a famous chief, Osceola, he is not represented as a warrior on the battlefield. Instead the poem describes Osceola’s deathbed and the moments prior to the chief’s death, which Whitman concluded was the direct result of a “broken heart.” One of the ending lines also describes how Osceola “fix’d his look on wife and little children – the last” (ln. 8). The incorporation of the family into the same space as a prominent historical figure is a new historicist technique, a method to present the “home life” to the reader rather than the linear history.

According to Betsy Erikkila, author of the article “Whitman the Political Poet,” encourages the notion of Whitman’s poems as a component of new historicism, claiming, “the obvious political passion and struggle that were at the foundation of Whitman’s democratic songs” (Erikkila 6). In “Osceola,” a strong passionate display of death is the poem’s focal point, which differs from the classical historical portrayal of American victory. “Osceola” displays political struggles that are particular to the chief himself rather than overarching political turmoil of American society- another method of New Historicism to narrow on activities, such as applying warpaint before dying of a broken heart, that may not be expansive enough to be written in historical anthologies and textbooks.

Poetic line citations are from Whitman: Poetry and Prose. Library of America College Editions. New York, NY. 1982. (Whitman, Walt. “Osceola” fr. Second Annex: Good-Bye My Fancy [1980, 1891-1892])

Erkkila, Betsy. “Whitman the Political Poet.” Oxford University Press. New York/Oxford. 1989.

Hall, Donald E. Literary and Cultural Theory. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, MA. 2001.

rachel’s imagegloss.
Posted on September 15th, 2009 at 12:35 pm by Rachel E. Miller


Four Boys In A Church Choir. Photographer:  H. Armstrong / Roberts Collection: Retrofile

Four Boys In A Church Choir. Photographer: H. Armstrong / Roberts Collection: Retrofile

“The pure contralto sings in the organloft” (39)

According to OED, “contralto” is a musical noun that means “the part next above the alto, sung by the highest male or lowest female voice” (OED 1a). A contralto is a voice of certain “pitch or compass” (OED 1b) and can describe a solo singer’s range or a select part in a vocal choir. The speaker’s references to choir, voices, and song are hardly surprising within the poem’s context, because Whitman himself had a great appreciation for the musical arts, including the theater. The poem’s title, “Song of Myself,” makes an explicit connection to music, calling the poem a “song” rather than a written work. David S. Reynolds also claims “music was such an all-pervasive force for him [Whitman] that he saw himself less as a poet than as a singer or a bard” (176), and Reynolds’ research indicates that Whitman chose the “contralto” to further illustrate his own beliefs on the importance, beauty, and overwhelming power of music.

When studied against the poem’s context, the “contralto” is almost godlike in its surpassing qualities. For instance, the line’s “contralto” has no specified gender and there are no gender-specific pronouns such as “he” or “she” to describe the singer.  Since “contralto” is a musical range both a male and a female artist can sing, the speaker subtly suggests that music crosses gender barriers. Genders are muddled further due to the fact that the “contralto’s” range aptly describes “high” (feminine) male voices and “low” (masculine) female voices. This portrayal shows “contralto” as profound character that exists beyond basic limitations.

In this poetic line, Whitman also describes the “contralto” as “pure,” further hinting at the singer’s unrestrained perfection. When describing sounds, “pure” means “not discordant or harsh, [but rather] perfectly in tune, clear and even in tone; produced by a vibration of a single frequency; with no overtones or harmonies” (OED 1c).  The singer’s clear tune provides a vivid musical image, an image that personifies an untainted sound. This representation illuminates the “contralto’s” abilities to sing above an unearthly, undefined level, and further encourages the notion that the singer cannot be defined using conventional barriers (such as gender).

Poetic line citation is from Whitman: Poetry and Prose. Library of America College Editions. New York, NY. 1982.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. First Vintage Books Edition, March 1996.

song of rachel.
Posted on September 9th, 2009 at 11:01 am by Rachel E. Miller

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes . . . . the shelves

Are crowded with perfumes (p. 27)

The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it. (p. 27)

Unscrew the locks from the doors!

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs! (p. 50)

I believe in the flesh and the appetites,

Seeing hearing and feeling are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle. (p. 51)

NOTE: Page citations are from Whitman: Poetry and Prose. Library of America College Editions. New York, NY. 1982.

Surprisingly enough, I’m unfamiliar with Whitman’s poetry. So reading “Song of Myself” was a completely new experience.  As my eyes roamed over the page, every single line leaped at me but as soon as I read the words “perfume” and “intoxicate,” I couldn’t help but smirk because I’m known in my circle of friends for soaking up my surroundings and allowing scents (such as a fresh pizza baking in a corner restaurant) to overwhelm me. It’s no surprise, then, that the poetic images I chose for my “song” have to do with worldly senses. I’m a very passionate person and enjoy “seeing hearing and feeling” because without those perceptions, a true appreciation for life is impossible.

The photo above was taken at my shore house in Avalon, NJ, and it was snapped very recently, in the summer of 2009. This summer I wanted to “unscrew the doors” (p. 50) as Whitman put it, and not be entrapped by the normal routine. In order to enjoy my new life as a post-graduate student, I escaped from the familiar and safe confinements of my bedroom, a place where I only slept and occasionally read a book. I rarely spent a day alone. My summer days consisted of wandering the beaches with my friends at 2 am, visiting the casinos in Atlantic City, and sampling “shore food” from boardwalk cuisine to exquisite seafood. Each of these experiences is a part of me now, a “tag of me” (p. 51), and the memories are precious. Each experience is also a miracle, as Whitman phrased it, because if one of my summer plans changed even slightly (such as a friend being unable to visit for a weekend), then my earthly experience in Avalon would have been quite different and the “tag of me” might not exist today.

This “Song of Rachel” is a plea for wandering outside the doors or barriers. This “Song of Rachel” insists sensual day-to-day life is a miracle that nourishes the body. I can only hope my experiences at graduate school will be as fulfilling as my adventures in the summer.

Hello world!
Posted on September 7th, 2009 at 8:08 pm by Rachel E. Miller

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