No one knew what to make of Whitman's long poetry, except another poet, New England's Ralph Waldo Emerson. He knew, right away, that Whitman was writing with a new kind of voice: an American voice. Here at last was an American poet, a poet of democracy. He called Leaves of Grass "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed ."
Back in 1820, an Englishman, the Reverend Sydney Smith, had mocked America when he said: "Who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?" By 1850, people all over the world were beginning to read American booksand to look at American paintings and statues, too.