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Printing House Square, New York
Although we are concerning ourselves in this collection with Whitman’s Brooklyn, it would seem incomplete – conspicuous in its absence, even – to neglect the familiar scene that was just across the river, the one into which nearly every disembarking passenger from the Fulton Ferry emerged, and within which Whitman himself was deeply immersed in ways both personal and professional. The nature and character of Brooklyn itself is also strongly bound up in the contrast with and reflection of New York, such that a visual context is illuminating.
The invention of the steam press in 1835 launched a mass communications industry that might well be characterized as the 19th century’s Internet explosion. So many newspapers started as a result of the new mechanization—and so many failed—that Whitman commented in 1842:
It is almost impossible to calculate the number of papers that are printed in the city of New York.
According to a comprehensive history and walking tour of Printing House Square at poets.org, Whitman’s estimate of the press in general was low.
Very few really good papers are published in New York. Most of them are bound up in partisanship, or prejudice, and are incapable of taking an enlarged and comprehensive view of matters and thing.
Whitman rated William Cullen Bryant’s The Evening Post among the best the leading Democratic paper, and several of the Whig papers, among them Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. Both the Tribune and the Post were two-penny papers.