Life & Letters

Chronology of Whitman's Life

1819

31 May, Walter Whitman born at West Hills, Huntington Township, New York, the second child of Walter Whitman, house builder, and Louisa Van Velsor, both descendants of early settlers on Long Island. Seven other Whitman children survive infancy: Jesse (1818–1870), Mary Elizabeth (1821–1899), Hannah Louisa (1823–1908); Andrew Jackson (1827–1863); George Washington (1829–1901); Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890); and Edward (1835—1892).

1823

27 May, Whitman family moves to Brooklyn expecting housing boom.

1825

4 July, Marquis de Lafayette visits Brooklyn and, according to Whitman's recollection, embraces him.

1825–1830

Attends public school in Brooklyn. Family frequently relocates within city.

1830–1831

Quits school; works as an office boy for lawyer, doctor.

1831–1832

Learns printing trade as apprentice for Long Island Patriot.

1832–1835

Summer 1832, works at Worthington's printing house. Fall 1832 to May 1835, works as compositor on Long Island Star. 1833, Whitman family moves back to Long Island.

1835–1836

Works as a printer in New York but is unemployed after a great fire in printing district, 12 August 1836.

1836–1838

Teaches school on Long Island at East Norwich, Hempstead, Babylon, Long Swamp, and Smithtown.

1838–1839

Edits weekly newspaper, Long Islander, Huntington; works on Long Island Democrat, Jamaica.

1840–1841

Fall 1840, campaigns for Martin Van Buren; teaches school on Long Island at Trimming Square, Woodbury, Dix Hills, and Whitestone.

1841

May, moves to New York City; works as a compositor for The New World. July, addresses Democratic Party rally in City Hall Park. August, publishes "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" in Democratic Review.

1842

November, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate published as an extra to The New World.

1842–1845

Works briefly for the Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, Democrat and Mirror and contributes to other papers in New York City.

1845–1846

August 1845, returns to Brooklyn; works for Brooklyn Evening Star until March 1846.

1846–1848

March 1846 to January 1848, edits Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Attends opera regularly.

1848

January, quits (or is fired) from Daily Eagle. February, goes to New Orleans with brother Jeff to edit Daily Crescent. May, resigns position and returns to Brooklyn via Mississippi and Great Lakes.

1848–1849

9 September 1848, first issue of Brooklyn Weekly Freeman, a "free-soil" newspaper founded and edited by Whitman; office burns after first issue. Spring Freeman becomes a daily; Whitman edits until 11 September 1849. July, examined by phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler.

1849–1854

Operates job-printing office, bookstore, and house building business; does freelance journalism. 31 March 1851, addresses Brooklyn Art Union; writes "Pictures" in 1853.

1855

15 May, takes out copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, containing twelve poems and a preface. Leaves is printed by the Rome brothers in Brooklyn during first week of July. Father dies on 11 July. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes to poet on 21 July: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career."

1855–1856

November 1855 to August 1856 writes for Life Illustrated; writes a political tract, "The Eighteenth Presidency!" Between August and September 1856, phrenologists Fowler and Wells publish second edition of Leaves of Grass, containing thirty-two poems, Emerson's letter, and an open letter by Whitman in reply to Emerson. November, visited by Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott in Brooklyn.

1857–1860

Spring 1857 to Summer 1859, edits Brooklyn Daily Times; unemployed during the winter of 1859–1860; frequents Pfaff's restaurant, a center of New York's literary bohemia.

1860

March, goes to Boston to oversee third edition of Leaves of Grass, published by Thayer and Eldridge. Urged by Emerson to "expurgate" the "Children of Adam" poems.

1861–1862

12 April 1861, the Civil War begins; Whitman's brother George enlists. Writes freelance journalism; visits the sick and injured at New York Hospital. December 1862, goes to Virginia where he learns that George has been wounded at Fredricksburg; remains in camp two weeks.

1863–1864

Moves to Washington, D.C.; visits military hospitals and supports himself as part-time clerk in Army Paymaster's Office. Becomes friends with William D. O'Connor and John Burroughs. December 1863, brother Andrew dies of tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism. June 1864, returns to Brooklyn for six months on sick leave. 5 December 1864, has brother Jesse committed to King's County Lunatic Asylum.

1865

Returns to Washington after 24 January appointment to clerkship in Indian Bureau of Department of the Interior. 4 March, attends Lincoln's second inauguration. 14 April, Lincoln assassinated. May, begins printing Drum-Taps (New York), but suspends printing to add a sequel commemorating Lincoln. 30 June, discharged from position by Secretary James Harlan, supposedly because of authorship of obscene poetry. Is transferred to a clerkship in Attorney General's Office. Summer, writes "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain!" October, publishes Drum-Taps and Sequel (Washington). Begins relationship with Peter Doyle, an eighteen-year old Confederate horse-car conductor, in Washington.

1866

O'Connor publishes The Good Gray Poet (New York: Bunce and Huntington), a defense co-written by Whitman, in response to the poet's firing by Harlan.

1867

John Burroughs supports Whitman in Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (New York: American News Company). 6 July, William Michael Rossetti publishes an appreciation of "Walt Whitman's Poems" in the London Chronicle. Fourth edition of Leaves of Grass printed in New York; publishes "Democracy," first part of Democratic Vistas, in December in the Galaxy.

1868

Poems of Walt Whitman, selected and edited by Rossetti, published in London (John Camden Hotten, publisher). "Personalism," second part of Democratic Vistas, published in the May Galaxy.

1869

Develops substantial following in England; Anne Gilchrist and, about this time, Edward Carpenter read Rossetti edition and are attracted to Whitman.

1870

Suffers depression; prints fifth edition of Leaves of Grass, and Democratic Vistas and Passage to India, all in Washington D.C., and dated 1871. May, Anne Gilchrist publishes "An Englishwoman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" in The Radical, Boston.

1871

Algernon Charles Swinburne greets Whitman in Songs Before Sunrise; Alfred, Lord Tennyson and John Addington Symonds send affectionate letters. Anne Gilchrist writes a marriage proposal; Whitman politely declines (3 November). Rudolph Schmidt translates Democratic Vistas into Danish. 7 September, Whitman reads After All, Not to Create Only at American Institute Exhibition in New York City (published in Boston by Roberts Brothers).

1872

1 June, Thérèse Bentzon (Mme. Blanc) publishes critical article on Whitman in Revue des Deux Mondes. 26 June, reads "As A Strong Bird on Pinions Free" at Dartmouth College commencement (published in Washington, D.C.). Succumbs to heat prostration; quarrels with O'Connor; writes will.

1873

23 January, suffers paralytic stroke. Mother dies on 23 May. "Song of the Universal" read at Tufts College commencement by proxy. June, Whitman leaves Washington and moves in with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey.

1874

12 July, receives adulatory letter from Carpenter. Midsummer, discharged from his position in Washington. Publishes "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus" in Harper's Magazine.

1876

Publishes "Author's" or "Centennial" edition of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets, a matched set of volumes, and Memoranda During the War (all in Camden, New Jersey); and "Walt Whitman's Actual American Position" in West Jersey Press (26 January), an unsigned article that leads to an international controversy about America's neglect of Whitman. Befriends Harry Stafford, a printers' employee; frequently visits the Stafford family farm at Timber Creek. September, Anne Gilchrist visits the United States with her children, rents a house, and hopes to marry Whitman.

1877

28 January, lectures on Thomas Paine in Philadelphia. Painted by George W. Waters in New York. May, Edward Carpenter visits Whitman in Camden; Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke visits Whitman and becomes a close friend. Whitman visits Burroughs in Esopus, New York, with Harry Stafford.

1878

Too sick to give planned lecture on "The Death of Abraham Lincoln" in spring. June, visits J.H. Johnston and John Burroughs in New York.

1879

14 April, gives first Lincoln lecture in New York. Anne Gilchrist returns to England. September, travels west as far as Colorado; falls ill, and stays with brother Jeff in St. Louis.

1880

April, gives Lincoln lecture in Philadelphia. January, returns to Camden. June to October, travels in Canada and visits Bucke in London, Ontario.

1881

15 April, gives Lincoln lecture in Boston. August to October, visits Boston to supervise a new edition of Leaves of Grass published by James R. Osgood containing the final arrangement of 293 poems. Visits Emerson in Concord.

1882

January, Oscar Wilde visits Whitman in Camden. April, Osgood withdraws edition of Leaves of Grass on complaint of Boston District Attorney. Rees Welsh (later David McKay) reprints Osgood edition in Philadelphia and issues Specimen Days and Collect. Publicity of Boston "suppression" of Whitman causes unprecedented boom in sales of Leaves of Grass. Becomes friends with Pearsall Smith, wealthy Philadelphia glass merchant and prominent Quaker.

1883

McKay publishes Bucke's Walt Whitman a biography written with contributions from Whitman.

1884

March, buys house at 328 Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, with royalties from McKay edition of Leaves of Grass. June, Carpenter visits a second time. Becomes friends with Horace Traubel, Thomas Harned, Talcott Williams, Thomas Donaldson, and Robert Ingersoll.

1885

July, has heat stroke. Friends, headed by Donaldson, present him with horse and buggy.

1886

Gives Lincoln lecture in Elkton, Maryland; Camden; Philadelphia; and Haddonfield, New Jersey. Pall Mall Gazette promotes fund which presents Whitman with eighty pounds. Boston supporters send $800 for purchase of summer cottage on Timber Creek (never built).

1887

14 April, Lincoln lecture in New York City at Madison Square Theater attracts many notables and nets $600, followed by reception at Westminster Hotel. Sculptured by Sidney Morse; painted by Herbert Gilchrist, J.W. Alexander, and Thomas Eakins.

1888

June, suffers another paralytic stroke followed by severe illness. Makes a new will naming Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and Horace Traubel as literary executors. Publishes November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay).

1889

Seventieth birthday party commemorated in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (ed. Horace Traubel. Philadelphia: David McKay).

1890

April, delivers Lincoln lecture for the last time, Philadelphia. 19 August, writes to John Addington Symonds; declares Symond's homosexual interpretation of "Calamus" poems "damnable" and claims to have fathered six illegitimate children. October, Whitman contracts to have $4,000 tomb built for himself in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

1891

Publishes Good-bye My Fancy and Deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass (both published by McKay, dated 1892). Prepares Complete Prose Works (McKay, 1892). Last birthday dinner at Mickle Street. December, catches pneumonia.

1892

26 March, dies at Mickle Street; 30 March, buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

William A. Pannapacker
Reproduced from J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), by permission.


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