Walt Whitman and the Development of Leaves of Grass

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

Island 3: The Multiform Seventh Edition

Between 1876 and 1881, the aging Whitman spent much of his time traveling. His first journeys took him to a friend's farm in Pennsylvania where he continued recuperating from his stroke. Once his health had returned, though, his travels expanded, visiting upstate New York (1878), Colorado (1879), and Ontario (1880).

Leaves of Grass (Boston: James R. Osgood, [1881])
Myerson A 2.7.a1, first state

In 1881, Whitman signed a contract with the respected Boston publishing firm of James R. Osgood and Company, and they brought out the seventh edition, which contained twenty new poems. The revisions Whitman made for this edition of Leaves would be final, and any new material he produced over the next decade would be annexed to the back of this 382-page Leaves of Grass text. Initial sales of the 1881-82 Osgood edition were very good, but in March of 1882 the District Attorney of Boston labeled the book as "obscene" and ordered it to be either expurgated or withdrawn from public sale. Whitman refused to compromise his work, and Osgood discontinued publication, handing over to the author approximately 225 unbound copies and the stereotype plates from which they had been printed. These plates were used for a total of fifteen printings with a variety of publishers. The seventh edition of Leaves of Grass is therefore the most bibliographically complex of all Whitman's works. This copy is the first state of the first printing, with the title page reading "1881-2." The second state reads "1881-82."

The original exhibition included two additional printings from the seventh edition, both from the collection of Joel Myerson. The first, Myerson A 2.7.b2, was from the second printing, published in London by David Bogue to secure British copyright after Trübner refused to serve as British distributor. The second, Myerson A 2.7.c1, was a copy of the third printing, distinguished by a title page that reads "Third Edition." Published by James R. Osgood in Boston, it consisted of 510 copies, printed on December 17, 1881.

Leaves of Grass "Author's Edition" (Camden, NJ, 1882)
Myerson A 2.7.c3

Whitman bound some of the remaining sheets which J. R. Osgood had printed and issued it with his own title page as the "Author's Edition" in 1882. There were between 200 and 250 copies in the issue; the title-page of the exhibit copy is signed by Whitman.

Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia Rees Welsh, 1882)
Myerson A 2.7.d

In June of 1882, Rees Welsh took over production of the seventh edition from Osgood and went through five printings in less than a year, capitalizing on the book's scandalous reputation after it had been banned in Boston. Over 2000 copies were reported sold in the first week of sales. The edition changed publisher's hands again when Rees Welsh was bought out by David McKay in November of the same year.

Leaves of Grass (Glasgow: Wilson & McCormick, 1883)
Myerson A 2.7.j2

After taking over production of Leaves of Grass, David McKay exported one hundred copies to Scotland in June of 1883 for distribution by the firm of Wilson & McCormick. Royalty statements show that Whitman received 17½ cents for each copy sent abroad, half of what he received for domestic sales.


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

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