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48 From the vantage point of this new regard, he can clearly delineate them from the scurrilous politicians at whose behest they function. Indeed, most New Yorkers were beginning to see those at the head of the city’s political organization, the Tweed Ring, in the same light as Whitman does here, as villains. Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871 was the way in which they hastened a public recognition of rampant political infamy so that, amid mounting evidence of fraud and corruption, 1871 saw the end of the Tweed Ring and its hold on the city’s politics.

Since the publication of some of his poems in England in 1868, he had become a focus of attention for a number of prominent figures there, among them a female admirer, Anne Gilchrist, who sent an impassioned marriage proposal he did not accept. In the summer of 1871 Edward Dowden, professor of English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, issued a significant essay, “The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman,” which reflected a growing admiration for the American bard among Irish literati. In 1871 he would also be hailed by the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne and receive warm letters from that country’s poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Whitman’s identification with the Irish poor may have stemmed from an early association with them in Brooklyn, where he and his family barely managed to remain above the level of poverty that obtained in the immigrant neighborhoods. Brooklyn’s “Irish Town” was located near the navy yard, not far from where the Whitmans lived in the 1820s and where Walt’s brother Jesse worked for a time. 10 In the 1850s when he was fashioning the all-encompassing poetic voice he believed America needed, Whitman experimented by assuming a fluid, flexible persona.

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