Walt Whitman and the Development of Leaves of Grass

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4

Island 2: Changes and Additions

After the publication of the third edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman continued to write occasional pieces for New York periodicals. In 1862, though, news that one of his brothers had been wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg caused Whitman to relocate to Washington. Securing a post as copyist for the army's paymaster, Whitman volunteered his afternoons nursing Union casualties in the area's many hospitals. These experiences served as the foundation for much of his subsequent poetry.

Drum-Taps (New York, 1865)
Myerson A 3.1.a2

Whitman's next addition to Leaves of Grass, the volume Drum-taps, contains the most important poetry that emerged from the American Civil War, including "Cavalry Crossing a Ford," "Bivouac on a Mountain Side," and "The Wound-Dresser" (originally titled "The Dresser"). The first issue had already been printed and bound before Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, but, shortly after Lincoln's death, Whitman came out with the second issue, which included the twenty-four page "Sequel to Drum-Taps" appended to the back of the volume. Two of Whitman's most famous poems, "O Captain, My Captain" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," both elegies for the deceased president, made their first appearances here. The former, in which Whitman uncharacteristically uses a regular rhythm and rhyme scheme, is often scorned by scholars, but the latter is certainly one of Whitman's greatest achievements. Both are responses to the death of President Lincoln, and together they illustrate Whitman's wide-ranging capabilities. The exhibit copy is of this second issue.

Early in 1865 Whitman had been transfered to the Interior Department, but in June of that year he was unexpectedly dismissed when the new Secretary, James Harlan, found his working copy of Leaves of Grass in a desk drawer. Harland objected to the book as obscene and, when asked to reinstate Whitman by the Attorney General, absolutely refused to give the poet his position back. Though Whitman would eventually be transfered to the Attorney General's office, the obscenity issue continued to surround Leaves of Grass.

Leaves of Grass (New York: 1867)
Myerson A 2.4.a2

There are three issues of the fourth edition of 1866-67. All three contain the 338-page Leaves of Grassproper, which is followed in the first issue by Drum-TapsSequel to Drum-Taps, and Songs Before Parting. The second issue omits Sequel to Drum-Taps, while the third issue contains only the 338 pages of Leaves of Grass. Of the few new poems in the main section, "One's-Self I Sing" has garnered the most critical attention. Many of the older poems were revised, and two of the clusters were redivided. The exhibit copy is from the second issue.

Poems of Walt Whitman, Selected and Edited by William Michael Rossetti (London: J.C. Hotten, 1868)
Myerson C 1

William Michael Rossetti, the brother of better-known poets Dante Gabriel and Christina, was a founding member of the pre-Raphaelite movement and an ardent republican, and as such took a deep interest in Whitman. John Camden Hotten had earned a reputation as a publisher who was willing to bring out books that others wished censored, including A. C. Swinburne's "indecent" Poems and Ballads. Their collaboration provided Whitman with his first foreign publication, resulting in increased attention both at home and abroad. The Rossetti edition is the only book in which Whitman consented to any changes or expurgations of his work. Although Rossetti handled the matter judiciously, Whitman was never satisfied with the book. 1500 copies were printed.

As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free and Other Poems (Washington, 1872)
Myerson A 7.1.a1

This poem was written upon invitation to be read at the Dartmouth College commencement in 1872. The Preface to this work is significant, for in it Whitman claims that he has completed Leaves of Grass and is moving on to new poetic undertakings. The succeeding years, however, would prove that he could not keep himself from periodically revisingLeaves of Grass. This copy is signed by the author.

Leaves of Grass (Washington, 1872)
Myerson A 2.5.b1

With the fifth edition, the poems of Drum-Taps andSequel to Drum-Taps (1865-66) have been integrated into the text of Leaves of Grass, with the thirty-two of them forming the central "cluster" of the book. The exhibit copy is from the first issue of the second printing and includes a 120-page annex, "Passage to India."

Leaves of Grass (Washington, 1872 [i.e., London: John Camden Hotten, 1873])
Myerson A 2.6, binding A

The sixth edition is an anonymously published type facsimile which was printed in London by Hotten, and it contains a number of textual and printing variants which distinguish it from the American fifth edition. Hotten had pirated the book and, in an effort to avoid British censorship laws, posed as the book's distributor rather than publisher. Though it was published in 1872, it did not appear until the following year.

On January 23, 1873, while at work, Whitman suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed on his left side. Unable to work, he took a leave of absence and moved to Camden, New Jersey, to live with his mother and his brother. Three days after his arrival, though, his mother died, leaving Whitman devastated. A year later his clerkship, for which he had been forced to hire a replacement, was eliminated to cut costs, and Whitman was forced to rely on his brother's financial support.

Memoranda During the War Author's Publication (Camden, NJ, 1875-76)
Myerson A 8.1.a2

Memoranda During the War is based upon Whitman's notebooks and diaries from the war years. He had first proposed publishing the book in 1863, but he had been unable to gather support for the endeavor. He finally published the book himself in 1875, binding the first issue inTwo Rivulets, a collection of his prose works. The exhibit copy is from the separately published second issue, which appeared shortly after Two Rivulets; it is possible that the second issue consisted of no more than a hundred copies.

Two Rivulets, including Democratic Vistas, Centennial Songs, and Passage to India "Author's Edition" (Camden, NJ, 1876)
Myerson A 9.1.b, binding A

After he suffered the stroke, Whitman's revisions of Leaves of Grass became less extensive. The "Author's Edition" issue ofLeaves was printed from the fifth edition plates, and it was issued with Two Rivulets in uniform binding as a two-volume collection of poetry and prose. Money to finance their publication came in large part from English subscribers, including Edmund Gosse, William Michael Rossetti, George Saintsbury, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Whitman kept a supply of these books on hand and autographed them as they were sold.


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