Between 1877 and 1887, Whitman wrote and received about 1,800 letters. In the post-Reconstruction years, Whitman brought to culmination Leaves of Grass in its final arrangement and his experimental autobiography, Specimen Days. Whitman's correspondence from these years reflects the controversy over the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass, published by mainstream publisher James R. Osgood & Co. and suppressed under the direction of the Boston district attorney; the arrangement of the poet's Lincoln lectures, which he delivered for a decade starting in 1879; and his extensive travel during the late 1870s and into 1880, as far west as Colorado and into Canada. Whitman's letters allow students of American history to see how his life and work was interwoven with the social, cultural, and political events of this troubled decade, when so much of the hope and excitement that had been generated by the Reconstruction and its progressive agenda gave way to a kind of national malaise.
This collection, made possible by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, brings together previously edited print material and freshly edited material that has never appeared in print. We thank all those holding relevant manuscripts—a great number of repositories and private collectors—for their cooperation with our project. The location of the original manuscript is indicated for each letter in the "About this Document" section. For the first time, we are gathering all of Whitman's letters from this period and presenting both his incoming and his outgoing correspondence. Previously unpublished letters are presented with scans of the original documents. For more information on the transcription and encoding of these diverse materials, please see our statement of editorial policy.
By default, the letters are listed in chronological order. Users have the option to sort the letters by both sender and recipient, or search the text and XML-encoding of the documents to return relevant results.