In his new study of a 19th-century American poet, Hallock uncovers convincing evidence that homophobic critics forced him into selfcensorship, isolation, and, ultimately, silence.
Are we talking about Walt Whitman, that Great Gay Poet of Mannahatta? No, of course not. Whitman was attacked but never gave in. It was FitzGreene Halleck (1790–1867), the dashing New Yorker who strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage and then was heard no more. He was madly in love with J.R. Drake, with whom he wrote the “Croaker Papers” (a series of poems satirizing New York society). The Croakers were the talk of the town, and so were Halleck and Drake, although they published the poems under pseudonyms. But Drake married a woman, and this left Halleck in a snit for the rest of his life. When Drake died at the age of 25, Halleck was mortified with grief and produced the widely anthologized elegy ``On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake.'' He wrote satires—“Fanny,'' for example—that earned comparison with Byron, but this is a bit of a stretch. Halleck lived a quiet life disconnected from the history unfolding around him. He hated democracy. He called himself a monarchist. He refused to write about the Civil War because he cared for neither side. His last words were ``Marie, hand me my pantaloons, if you please.'' Byron died at war. Whitman at least got to the battleground, and he was one who never let the critics stop him from writing, even if he did censor his own lines from time to time. Hallock, a distant relative of Halleck, unfortunately never inherited his ancestor's felicity with words. He seems to have a perverse aversion to narrative, and his writing is marred by the tittering wit of the academic—as when he writes of Halleck's phallic imagery in an early poem: ``Stiff memory is penetrated by a metaphoric dart, akin to Cupid's arrow.''
Hallock's great accomplishment here is a documentation of literary homophobia. It will take another writer to give us a compelling biography of this once-famous poet.