Selected Criticism

Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary

Ed Folsom

Walt Whitman as a Maker of Books

Walt Whitman is the only major American poet of the nineteenth century to have an intimate association with the art of bookmaking. Everyone knows Whitman as a poet and the author of one of the most studied books of American poetry, Leaves of Grass. What is less well known is that Whitman was trained as a printer and throughout his life spent time in printing shops and binderies, often setting type himself and always intimately involved in the design and production of his books. Whitman did not just write his book, he made his book, and he made it over and over again, each time producing a different material object that spoke to its readers in different ways.

No nineteenth-century American author was more involved in the range of actual activities of bookmaking than Whitman. He began his career as a newspaper worker, learning typesetting at the young age of twelve as an apprentice on the Long Island Patriot under the tutelage of William Hartshorne (1775–1859), a master printer (Whitman called him "the veteran printer of the United States") who later became Brooklyn's city printer. Late in his life, Whitman wrote a poem called "A Font of Type," in which he imagines all the "unlaunch'd voices—passionate powers, / Wrath, argument, or praise, or comic leer, or prayer devout" that lie "within the pallid slivers slumbering" in "This latent mine" of the type-box. That poem harkens back to the poet's experiences as a boy in Hartshorne's Brooklyn printing office where he "received from Mr. H. . . . the first instructions in type-setting—the initiation into the trade and mystery of our printing craft." Recalling the experience in the early 1860s, Whitman conjured up "the whole modus of that initiation," producing a catalog worthy of his finest poetry: "the half eager, half bashful beginning—the awkward holding of the stick—the type-box, or perhaps two or three old cases, put under his feet for the novice to stand on, to raise him high enough—the thumb in the stick—the compositor's rule—the upper case almost out of reach—the lower case spread out handier before him—learning the boxes—the pleasing mystery of the different letters, and their divisions—the great 'e' box—the box for spaces right by the boy's breast—the 'a' box, 'i' box, 'o' box, and all the rest—the box for quads away off in the right hand corner—the slow and laborious formation, type by type, of the first line—its unlucky bursting by the too nervous pressure of the thumb—the first experience in 'pi,' and the distributing thereof—all this, I say, what jour typo cannot go back in his own experience and easily realize?" Such passages suggest that Whitman probably never composed a line of poetry without, in his mind's eye, putting it on a composing stick.

Ezra Greenspan has made the point that "the printing office replaced the schoolroom as the site" of Whitman's education, and his apprenticeship continued in the early 1830s with other Brooklyn printers like Erastus Worthington and then Alden Spooner, publisher of the Long Island Star, where Whitman finished his apprentice work. He became a journeyman printer in Manhattan in the mid-1830s while still a teenager. Huge fires in the printing district of New York in 1836 sent the young Whitman back to Long Island to teach, but he soon was back in the printing and publishing business, starting his own weekly newspaper (the Long Islander) in Huntington, employing his brother George as printer's devil. Whitman, later in his life, recalled how much he "liked printing" in those days as he "learn'd the trade of compositor" and then "bought a press and types" for the Long Islander and "did most of the work myself, including the presswork." By the early 1840s, he was a compositor for The New World and worked for a series of newspapers in New York, including the Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, Democrat, Mirror, then the Brooklyn Evening Star, and, in the mid-1840s, he edited the Brooklyn Daily Eagle; he went to New Orleans to edit the Daily Crescent for a few months in 1848, then returned to Brooklyn to start a free-soil newspaper, the Freeman. In the early 1850s, while writing Leaves of Grass, he ran a job-printing office and became close friends with Brooklyn printers, including some young brothers who had emigrated from Scotland and now ran a small job printing shop on Fulton Street, where Whitman would print the first edition of his book.

All of Whitman's experience as a newspaper editor and printer, designing and composing printed pages, stayed with him during his years as a poet. The first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) was self-published, and Whitman designed the binding, chose the typeface, designed the pages, worked with an engraver on the frontispiece, and even set some of the type himself. This year (2005) is the sesquicentennial of the publication of that first edition, an appropriate time to reconsider this major text in American literary and cultural history and to determine the variety of ways that Whitman's bookmaking skills influenced his work.

Throughout his life, Whitman retained an intimate association with the publishers of his books, worrying over the tiniest physical details. When he would write a poem, he often took the manuscript to typesetter-friends to have the draft set in type (or sometimes do the typesetting himself), then would make his revisions on the proof sheets: it's as if he could only recognize his work as poetry when it was embodied in print. He knew the power of print, and he knew the resonance of all of print's permutations. So he designed and helped set type for the first edition—sitting in the printing shop while the book was being printed, reading proof, and making changes literally as the book was in press—and then designed his second edition (1856); when in 1859 he got a contract from a Boston publisher for the third edition of Leaves, he immediately left for Boston to oversee the production, sitting for weeks with the typesetters, carefully selecting the wildly divergent typefaces, designing the enigmatic decorations, and choosing the binding.

Whitman actually considered himself a bookmaker more than an author. "I sometimes find myself more interested in book making than in book writing," he once said; "the way books are made—that always excites my curiosity: the way books are written—that only attracts me once in a great while." "Having been a printer myself," he told his disciple Horace Traubel, "I have what may be called an anticipatory eye—know pretty well as I write how a thing will turn up in the type—appear—take form." That printer's anticipatory eye was responsible for a lot of Whitman's decisions about how his books look and finally how they come to embody meaning, and yet over the years critics' eyes have been blind to this printer's design decisions. The "Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman" exhibition and symposium begins, then, a major critical re-examination of Whitman's work from an important and, until now, virtually ignored perspective.

Leaves of Grass ultimately went through six entirely different editions, and each edition had multiple issues, often with different bindings, different paper size, different cover designs, and different configurations of contents. Whitman was always experimenting with the physical appearance of his book, and his changes reflect his evolving notions of what role his writing would play in the emerging American democracy. Major historical events like the Civil War and Reconstruction had a visible effect on the physical makeup of his books. When he published his Civil War poems in a separate book called Drum-Taps, for example, he constructed that book during a time of paper shortage, and the very composition of the pages reflects his desire to use every inch of space, leading to an arrangement of poems that has often been read thematically but may in fact have been coerced spatially, a book of war poems rationed so as to conserve paper and space. After the war, as Whitman tried to figure out how to absorb his Civil War poems into Leaves of Grass, he began by constructing an edition in 1867 in which he literally sewed the pages of the unbound copies of Drum-Taps into the back of the newly printed Leaves. This was the beginning of a long process of post-war reconstruction of Leaves that mirrors the Reconstruction of the nation that was occurring at the same time. Some of the copies of the 1867 edition contain Drum-Taps while others do not; the bindings change, too, and this fluidity reflects his indecision over whether Leaves of Grass, which originally set out to celebrate the unity of the United States, could properly contain poems chronicling the divisive war between the states.

This is just one small example of the hundreds of changes Whitman made to his books as he designed and re-designed them, altered the arrangement and number of poems, shifted titles and typefaces, and kept Leaves of Grass a shifting series of quite different texts—each one responding to a particular biographical and cultural moment—instead of a single book. This evolution of one of the most important texts in American literature has, remarkably, never been examined in detail, in part because of the difficulty of gathering all the variations of the book in one place. These editions are rare and expensive, and even major research libraries that own copies of all six of Whitman's different editions do not own copies of all the multiple variants of those editions (some of them in fact have only been discovered in the last several years). This exhibition brings these books together for the first time and gathers some of the best Whitman scholars and book historians to assess what we can learn by re-thinking Whitman's career in terms of book history and the history of Whitman's books.

The "Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman" exhibition at the University of Iowa Museum of Art showcases the University of Iowa Library's impressive collection of Whitman editions and supplements this collection with the largest private collection of Whitman materials, the Kendall Reed collection in Des Moines. Dr. Reed, a longtime Whitman collector, has generously agreed to allow his collection to be exhibited for the first time, and we are thus able to display the full range of Whitman's bookmaking activities and explore what this array of physical objects tells us about Whitman's work, his life, and his times. In addition, because so many fine presses and master printers have continued over the past century to create new Whitman books, often illustrated by well-known artists, the exhibit also displays the largest selection ever gathered of fine-press editions of Whitman's work. The intimate connection between Whitman and printing is on full display here, from Whitman making books to the books that continue to make Whitman and his reputation.

The Books Whitman Made

In 1850, only five years before Leaves of Grass appeared, Whitman was known only as a printer, journalist, and writer of short stories and sketches. James J. Brenton, owner of the Long Island Democrat, a newspaper on which Whitman had worked, put together a book in 1850 that collected what he called "sketches, essays, and poems by practical printers." The idea was to demonstrate that printers—"they who have so often assisted in ushering into the world the productions of others"—could also be writers, could "now in turn venture to originate ideas of their own, and appear before the public in the ambitious character of Authors." The result, Voices from the Press, contained Whitman's short story "The Tomb Blossoms," the first appearance by Whitman in a book. He is presented as one of the printers who could also write, and in the contributors' notes we find a short biography of Whitman that describes him as a printer, former schoolteacher, and writer of popular sketches; he is now, we are told, "connected to the press" and is "an ardent politician of the radical democratic school." He is seen, in short, as anything but a poet: even his numerous early poems, many of which had appeared in Brenton's newspaper, are not mentioned. In 1850, only five years before publishing Leaves of Grass, a book that would forever change American literature, Whitman was still very much seen as just a "practical printer." And, as we will see, he remained a practical printer the entire time he became America's most original poet; in fact, his practical printing skills were integral to the new American poetry he created.

Late in his life, Whitman was visited by two college students from Trenton, New Jersey, who asked him for advice for young writers. The poet answered, "Whack away at everything pertaining to literary life—mechanical part as well as the rest. Learn to set type, learn to work at the 'case,' learn to be a practical printer, and whatever you do learn condensation." As Whitman himself discovered throughout his career, if you have controversial and unorthodox things to say, you'd better know how to print them yourself. Whitman's printing experience allowed him to figure out how to "condense" his work to make it fit onto the allotted pages. He knew that writing anything eventually involved working at the case.

The First Edition of Leaves of Grass (1855)

Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass was a self-publication. No publisher was interested in producing what seemed an odd and inelegant group of twelve untitled poems. So Whitman did it himself: he designed the cover, chose the binding, and set some of the type himself. He talked a friend, Andrew Rome, who was a job printer with a tiny shop on Fulton and Cranberry Streets in Brooklyn, into printing the book. Andrew Rome had just lost his brother and business partner, James, who died of consumption about half a year before Andrew began working on Leaves. Whitman's daily presence in the shop while he was working on his book would have been a great comfort to the grieving older brother. Andrew's next younger brother Thomas, then nineteen, helped out. Bibliographies of Whitman's work always list the "Rome Brothers" as the printers of the first Leaves, but it is significant that Whitman's own earliest recorded recollection of the printing specifies that it was Andrew Rome alone who did the printing—"The first Leaves of Grass was printed in 1855 in Brooklyn New York. . . . 800 copies were struck off on a hand press by Andrew Rome, in whose job office the work was all done—the author himself setting some of the type." And the one manuscript we have that indicates Whitman's instructions to the printer note simply "Left with Andrew 5 pages MS." Tom Rome may have helped set type, but he was not yet a partner; Andrew published under the name "A. H. Rome" (only in 1864, when Tom was in his mid-twenties, did "A. H. Rome & Brothers" begin appearing on their publications, and only in 1865 did it become "Rome Brothers").

Leaves of Grass is very likely the first book Andrew Rome's tiny firm ever published. His press was hardly set up to publish books at all; the next extant book that Rome printed was in 1858 (a pamphlet of the Brooklyn fire marshal's semi-annual report), followed by a short book on fire insurance laws in 1859. Andrew and Tom would publish city and county reports, Unitarian sermons, one novel, and one other book of poems (by one John Lockwood). Almost all their books were small paperback pamphlets, flimsy publications, most of which have not survived.

Rome mainly published legal forms—blank model legal forms for wills, mortgages, deeds, subpoenas, levies on property, summonses and many other legal transactions and procedures. Such printed forms—with the blank spaces to be filled in ink with the names of the parties, dates, and other relevant details—were widely used by lawyers and peace officers and the general public throughout the nineteenth century. Such forms were staples of the printing trade for over three hundred years. These forms, in the pre-typewriter days of the nineteenth century, were printed on large sheets of paper to allow for the easy addition by hand of names and places and dates and amounts; the forms were in fact about the same size as the pages of the 1855 Leaves of Grass, and the possibility thus arises that at the time Andrew Rome was printing Leaves, his first book, he was using the size paper he would normally have used for the legal forms he was printing. It has long been assumed that Whitman chose the large-sized paper so that his long lines would have room to wander across the page, but it is likely that Whitman simply had to accept this paper as a convenience, since it was what Andrew had in stock and what his press at that time was set up to handle. Whitman's later editions, including the very small pages of the 1856 Leaves, indicate that he was not wedded in any way to the large paper size. And, as this exhibit makes clear, he experimented with many paper sizes during his career but never returned to the large legal sheets of the original Leaves.

On the manuscript sheet on which Whitman indicates he left five pages of his book manuscript with Andrew Rome (fig. 1) (the sheet is now located at the University of Texas Humanities Research Center), Whitman lists the contents of his book, but the poems are in an entirely different order than they finally appeared, and we can see that Whitman is still estimating the page count for the book. He tallies 127 pages of manuscript (although his individual page counts add up to 117 pages, a miscalculation that perhaps opens up space for his prose preface, which he adds at the last minute), and, using pages from "Shakespeare's poems," he estimates that a printed page will contain 1120 letters (28 lines of 40 letters), compared to 1600 letters of "in one of my closely written MS pages" (40 lines of 40 letters). In order to create a printer's cast-off, he multiplies 127 by 1600 for a total of 203,200 which he then divides by 1120, in order to come up with an estimated count of 181 pages. At this point Whitman is clearly imagining a page approximately half the size of the one eventually used (a page much closer in size to the 1856 edition). All of this supports the idea that the large pages were something Whitman passively accepted rather than actively chose. Working with the larger page size clearly was a challenge, and, since the small shop would have been distributing type after each quarto was printed before setting the next eight pages, Whitman was clearly calculating on the run, rearranging his poems to accommodate the size, giving up his repeated "Leaves of Grass" title (which he puts before the first six poems) so that he can squeeze the six short poems he has moved to the end into the final two signatures. The arrangement of the poems in the first edition, then, clearly seems to be an arrangement based on spatial concerns rather than on thematic ones, as he begins with the ninth signature to give up starting each poem on a new page, and with the tenth signature to separate poems with a double-rule instead of with the "Leaves of Grass" repeated title.

Figure 1.

Whitman believed that American poetry would have to be essentially different from any poetry written previously—it would have to look different, sound different, and deal with different subject matter if it was to guide the development of a radical new American democracy. So he designed his book to look unlike any previous book of poetry, and the binding was a key element of his innovation. Whitman chose a dark green ribbed morocco cloth to suggest the organic nature of the poetry, and his title set up a pun on "leaves"—the leaves (or pages) of this book would be like leaves of grass, hearty and alive, growing everywhere, a poetry of the outdoors, rooted in the soil of America. He designed the stamping on the cover: he goldstamped the lush letters of "Leaves of Grass," with the very letters of the title sprouting roots and leaves, and he surrounded the title with blindstamped foliage buried in the morocco green but prominently goldstamped on the spine. It is a book whose cover insists on an organic understanding of literature, with words rooted in nature, with language as abundant as grass (fig. 2).

Figure 2.

Just as striking as the fertile letters of his title on the cover are the letters that are missing on both the cover and title page—the letters of the author's name. The title page contains only the title, place, and date, with the word "Leaves" and "Grass" in an extraordinarily large typeface, now stripped of all of the organic ornamentation that appeared on the cover ("a title page of magnificent proportions," wrote one reviewer, "with letter-press at least an inch and a half in length") (fig. 3).

Figure 3.

It would not be until the third edition that Whitman would allow his name to appear on either the cover or the title page: these books, he wanted to emphasize, were written by a representative American who spoke for the vast variety of the nation. America's new poetry, he believed, would not be written by a traditional poet, proud of his authority, but rather by a rough representative of the great democratic average, who gained his authority by speaking the language of the masses. So, facing the title page, Whitman included an engraving of a daguerreotype of himself, a full-body portrait, with working clothes and hat on (fig. 4). This is a poetry, the portrait seemed to say, that comes from the body as much as from the mind, that emerges from the working classes instead of from the educated aristocrats. Ted Genoways has recently discovered some intriguing variations in the frontispiece engraving, suggesting that Whitman may have worked with the engraver to enhance the bulge of the crotch in the figure, thus giving visual support for Whitman's introduction of his name halfway through the first long poem (later titled "Song of Myself"): "I [. . . ] make short account of neuters and geldings, and favor men and women fully equipped, / And beat the gong of revolt, and stop with fugitives and them that plot and conspire. / Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, / Disorderly fleshy and sensual . . . . eating drinking and breeding." The bulging-crotch version of the engraving appears in all of the copies in the first binding (fig. 5b), but many of the copies in the second binding contain the earlier flat-crotch image (fig. 5a), which was printed using the more expensive chine collé method of printing the image on a thin sheet of India paper and gluing that paper to the page at the moment of impression.

Figure 4.

Figure 5.

5a and 5b

Because he did not have much money, Whitman had copies of the 1855 edition bound on at least five different occasions from June 1855 to January 1856, producing another group of books whenever he had the cash, and he was forced to use increasingly cheaper bindings and finishing methods. The University of Iowa copy, with the goldstamped triple-rule frame and gilded edges, is an example of the first and most expensive binding. For the second binding, Whitman gave up some of the goldstamping and the gilded edges, along with the marbled endpapers, and then, for the final binding, he used a cheap and plain paper wrapper, with no decorations. 795 copies of the edition were bound, first at a Brooklyn bindery operated by Charles Jenkins, then at another bindery called Davies & Hands. 200 copies were bound in cloth in June, 1855, by Jenkins, then 137 more in July by Davies & Hands, along with 46 in mounted boards; 169 additional copies were bound in December in cloth, and in January 1856, 150 more in paper, and 93 in cloth. The paperbound and boardbound copies did not wear well, and almost all have disappeared or have been rebound.

The first census of the 1855 edition was just conducted this year; over 150 copies of the book have now been located, and there are probably another fifty or so in private collections, so it appears that about 200 of the original 750 survive. As a result of a detailed survey of the owners of 150-plus copies, we have been able to determine that there are far more variations from copy to copy than have been previously known. Whitman was clearly present while Andrew Rome ran his hand-inked iron-bed press with four-up printing, printing four pages at a time on quarto sheets and forming a book with twelve eight-page signatures. Whitman clearly pulled one of the first sheets off the press during each run and quickly read proof, making changes as he found errors, and once changing an entire line about a third of the way through the printing of that sheet (fig. 6). Occasionally type slipped or even broke off, resulting in errors later in the run. One of the most controversial is the absence of a period at the end of the long poem later titled "Song of Myself": that absent period has long been assumed to have been intentional on Whitman's part (indicating the endless, ongoing process that the poem celebrates), but the census reveals that at least two copies do have the period, while others show the period pushing up against the "u" in the final word of the poem, clearly slipping before breaking off. When Whitman proofread the first sheets, he would have seen a period at the end of the poem (even though he missed another typo just two lines earlier, where the word "me" is repeated), before it broke off in the early stage of the print run (fig. 7).

Figure 6.

Figure 7.

All originality owes something to predecessors, and Whitman clearly borrowed the conception of his cover design from a very popular book that appeared just two years earlier, called Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio (fig. 8), by Sara Payson Willis (better known as Fanny Fern), a friend of Whitman and an admirer of his work. Fern Leaves was a collection of character sketches and proto-feminist essays, and it featured on its green cover a goldstamped title, with "Fern Leaves" composed of letters sprouting roots and leaves. Whitman borrowed Willis's idea and compounded the effect, almost disguising his title letters in organic imagery.

Figure 8.

The book as a physical object was certainly perceived as unusual in size, ornamentation, and design. One early reviewer in Life Illustrated commented on its "curious title" and went on to say that "the book itself is a hundred times more curious. It is like no other book that ever was written." This reviewer described the book object as "shaped like a small atlas." Edward Everett Hale in North American Review threw up his hands at trying to describe it: "Everything about the external arrangement of this book [is] odd and out of the way." Almost all the reviewers commented on the absence of the author's name and the odd frontispiece engraving—"the unique effigies of the anonymous author," "the picture of a perfect loafer." The reviewer for the Critic found similar qualities in the author and the book: "The man is the true impersonation of his book—rough, uncouth, vulgar." Charles Eliot Norton, in his Putnam's Monthly review, summed up the feeling of many when he described it as "this gross yet elevated, this superficial yet profound, this preposterous yet somehow fascinating book."

The Second Edition of Leaves of Grass (1856)

Within a year of publishing Leaves of Grass, Whitman was already reconceptualizing his book, and he would continue to do so his whole life. Each edition of Leaves is essentially a different book, not just another version of the same book. For his 1856 edition, Whitman added twenty new poems to the original twelve. But as the book grew in number of poems, it shrank in page size; the paper for this edition is less than half the size of that of the first edition. If the pages of the first edition call out like a legal proclamation on their legal-sized sheets, the pages of this book seem more in keeping with a devotional manual, something less public and more intimate. As in the first edition, no publisher appears in this edition, but the book was in fact printed by Fowler and Wells, a combination phrenology firm, bookseller, and publisher, for whom Whitman had worked. Fowler and Wells distributed the first edition, and, while they in effect published the second edition, they still did not want their names appearing as publishers of such a controversial work.

This edition demonstrates Whitman's changing attitudes toward his book and toward the goals he had for his work. He quickly gave up the spacious pages that easily accommodated his long and flowing lines, and instead he shrank the book to a "pocket-size" edition. His dream now was to have working people carry his poetry with them and read it during breaks: "to put a book in your pocket and off to the seashore or the forest—that is an ideal pleasure." So he created a book that he hoped would "go into any reasonable pocket," something the first edition clearly would not do. What he ended up with, however, was what he eventually called "the chunky fat book," its cramped pages and tight margins forcing the poet to break his lines frequently so that they fit on the page. About a thousand copies of this edition were printed.

This edition also manifests Ralph Waldo Emerson's influence on Whitman. Whitman owed a great deal to the great Concord writer and philosopher, whose essay "The Poet" seemed in many ways to prophesy Walt Whitman (some critics would argue that Whitman simply modeled himself on Emerson's essay). Whitman reportedly said that by the mid-1850s he was "simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil." If that is true, then this edition is the most furious roiling of the waters. Whitman here prints the supportive letter that Emerson had sent him after reading the 1855 Leaves (a letter that Whitman immediately had reprinted in the New York Tribune, copies of which he sometimes inserted into later copies of the first edition), prints his own twelve-page response to Emerson (addressing him as "Master"), and brazenly features Emerson's name and endorsement on the spine of the book, thus inventing the cover blurb that we have since become so accustomed to. Whitman carefully sketched out plans for the spine (fig. 9), figuring precisely how he wanted to position the carefully selected words from Emerson's letter: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." This statement appears in gold letters (fig. 10), followed by "R. W. Emerson." Whitman used this emblazoned blurb without Emerson's permission (initiating a controversy that rages to this day), and Emerson, for his part, reluctantly learned to accept such behavior from Whitman (when Emerson loaned his copy of the 1856 edition to a friend, he said that "the inside was worthy [of] attention even though it came from one capable of so misusing the cover"). Reviewers were quick to pounce on Whitman for this indiscretion ("This is making a private letter go very far indeed. . . . It is a literary fraud, and Mr. Whitman ought to be ashamed of himself").

Figure 9.

Figure 10.

A section at the back of this volume titled "Leaves-Droppings" includes a correspondence section and a reviews section, containing reprints of both positive and negative reviews of the first edition (some of which were written by Whitman himself). The Correspondence section opens with Emerson's famous letter to Whitman from which the quote on the spine was taken. Though Emerson praises Whitman in this letter, he praises him for his "wit and wisdom" rather than for his poetry; indeed, he never refers to Whitman as a poet or to his work as poetry. Whitman's reply begins, "Here are thirty-two poems, which I send you, dear Friend and Master," pointedly referring to his own work as poetry rather than merely "wit and wisdom" (fig. 11). He would title all the poems in this volume and include in the title of each poem the word "Poem," as in "Poem of Women" or "Poem of Salutation," as if to underscore the genre he was now claiming for his work.

Figure 11.

The cover is a miniature version of the 1855 cover, still green with blindstamped foliage, but now with an unornamented and inorganic "Leaves of Grass" on the front cover (fig. 12). On the spine, however, the "a" in "Grass" and the "m" in "Whitman" both sprout leaves, and Whitman's sketches for the spine show him playfully pulling roots out of the letters of his title. It is notable that Whitman puts his name on the spine but still not on the front cover or the title page, indicating that his decision to leave his name off the title page in both the first edition and this edition had more to do with a design decision than with a desire to create mystery about the author or to create suspense by withholding the author's name until nearly halfway through the first long poem: in the 1856 edition, anyone looking at the spine knew the book was by Whitman, and the first long poem was now entitled "Poem of Walt Whitman, an American." The few reviews of this edition found little remarkable about the physical object itself: "The form of the book has been changed from 4 to 16 mo," wrote one, "and the typography is much improved."

Figure 12.

The Third Edition of Leaves of Grass (1860)

Whitman had been prolific in his composition of new poems after the 1856 edition, and by the time he issued his third edition in 1860, there were 146 new poems. Many of the previous poems had undergone extensive revision. For the first time, Whitman's "Calamus" poems appear, a cluster devoted to male-male affection, along with "Enfans d'Adam," later renamed "Children of Adam," a group of poems dealing with male-female attraction.

This is the first edition of Leaves published by a true publisher. Thayer and Eldridge, a new (they went into business in late 1859) but already very reputable Boston publisher specializing in abolitionist texts, had written to Whitman in February 1860, saying that they wanted to publish the next edition of his poems. William Thayer and Charles Eldridge were radical abolitionists who dedicated their business to antislavery; their best-selling author was James Redpath, whose book on John Brown was a great success; the firm also signed William Douglas O'Connor, who would become one of Whitman's greatest supporters. Whitman, of course, was pleased with the Thayer and Eldridge offer, and, to the surprise of his new publishers, he promptly set out for Boston to personally oversee the typesetting and printing of the book; he always took a very active role in all aspects of his books' production. At this time, he walked with Emerson on the Boston Commons, and the Concord sage tried to convince Whitman that he needed to remove the "Enfans d'Adam" poems, both because they were immoral and because they would hurt the book financially. Whitman refused to delete any of his poems, and they did indeed attract a lot of attention: "love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching, / Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice, / Bridegroom-night of love, working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn. . . ." Such images were viewed by many as pornographic in this Victorian era, as were Whitman's images of fathering a nation of strong new democrats: "I draw you close to me, you women! / . . . I make my way, / I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable—but I love you, / I do not hurt you more than is necessary for you, / I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for These States—I press with slow rude muscle. . . / I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me."

This spermatic imagery (Whitman in his long first poem talks of how "a spirt of my own seminal wet" offers more to mankind than all the empty talk of philosophers and religious prophets about the universe) is everywhere through this volume, and so Whitman has redesigned his title page to turn the very letters of "Leaves of Grass" into sperm (figs. 13, 14), adding the distinctive tails that had become familiar in medical textbooks of the time (fig. 15), and the period after the title is a perfect representation of a sperm cell; Whitman's words were the seeds for new ideas, a new nation, a new conception of democracy, but his words would need to penetrate readers and fertilize their imaginations. The tendrils growing out of the "L" and "G" on the cover of the book (figs. 18, 19) may be the curling tails of sperm: tendrils or tails, they are there to make the words move and cling, find nurturant ground so they can grow into something new.

Figure 13.

Figure 14.

Figure 15.

For the first time the publisher's name appears prominently on the title page. Though the edition was actually published in 1860, the title page asserts that the edition was published in the "Year 85 of The States. / (1860⋏61)," indicating Whitman's decision to use a new American calendar and date his publications from the Declaration of Independence. The book features a new frontispiece engraving of Whitman produced by S. A. Schoff (based on a painting by Charles Hine, which itself may have been based on a photograph of Whitman taken in the late 1850s), which sharply contrasts with the engraving used in the previous two editions of Leaves of Grass (fig. 16). The Schoff engraving gives us a more elegant and full-faced Whitman, presumably sitting, with shirt, jacket, and tie. Schoff's engraving appeared in three forms, because he was not finished with the engraving when the volume was ready for binding, so the various issues contain increasingly more finished states of the engraving.

Figure 16.

The Thayer and Eldridge edition is a big book—456 pages—and it has the feel of a monumental work, something Whitman was by this point trying consciously to produce. He had been writing in his notes about his desire to create "the New Bible," a Bible for American democracy that would reconfigure morality on radically democratic terms. In his own working copy of the 1860 edition of Leaves, Whitman carefully noted the number of words in the Bible (895,752), the number of words in the New Testament (212,000), and the number of words in the "Boston ed. Leaves of Grass" (150,500). To this total, he added the words in his new book of Civil War poems, Drum-Taps (33,000), giving him a total of 183,500, an impressive amount of verbiage, but still quite a ways from overtaking his ancient rival (fig. 17). The 1860 edition does, however, have the heft and feel of a Bible.

Figure 17.

One of the most striking features of this edition is that Whitman gives up the green binding that had seemed so appropriate for his title. He had the 1860 book bound in a number of different bindings—from yellowish brown to reddish orange to purple. This color change is significant. As the last antebellum edition of Leaves;, this book appeared on the edge of the Civil War. The parenthetical date on the title page is a fragmented one, "1860⋏61," prophetically bridging the final year of unstable peace with the first year of actual war. The nation was now no longer "woven" "out of hopeful green stuff" (as Whitman had described the grass in 1855), but was on the edge of a massive bloodletting that would result in over 600,000 deaths. The color shift from green to dark red, burnt orange, or purple is one that Whitman would play on for the rest of his life, issuing some of his final books in both green and dark red covers, as if to suggest that his work (and all life) hover between green and red, nature and blood, spring and autumn, beginnings and endings.

The emblems he chose for this volume underscore this shift in tone. On the front cover "Leaves of Grass" appears blindstamped around a blindstamped globe, revealing the Western hemisphere, floating in clouds (fig. 18). The letters of "Leaves of Grass" have stylized tendrils emerging from the "L" and "G." On the spine, "Leaves of Grass" is goldstamped, and at the bottom of the spine is the name "Walt Whitman," blindstamped as if to suggest that the poet still had some reticence about trumpeting his individual identity. Above the name is a blindstamped hand with a butterfly perched on a pointing finger; this emblem of the union of man and nature, of the body and the soul, reappears several times in the book, and some years later Whitman brought the figure to life by posing for a photograph with a cardboard butterfly perched on his thumb. On the back cover is the image of a sun (fig. 19), but it could be either rising or setting over the ocean. Is the red of the cover the first light of a new dawn or the last light before darkness? In the fateful year of 1860, the fate of the United States was unclear, and no one knew whether it would emerge from its internecine conflict stronger than before or utterly destroyed. Was the American hemisphere rising out of the clouds, harbinger of a newly unified world, an international democracy, or was it descending into the clouds, harbinger of a continuing fragmentation and division that would destroy the hopes of national and international unity? The emblems on the cover are repeated throughout the book, where their ambiguity only increases as they punctuate Whitman's poetry that tries desperately to hold North and South together, and that in the "Calamus" poems offers up a vision of men loving men to counter the horror of fratricide that threatened the nation at this pivotal moment in its history.

Figure 18.

Figure 19.

From March to May of 1860, Whitman stayed in Boston and sat with the compositors at the George C. Rand and Avery print shop. He carried with him his notebooks in which he had carefully recorded the array of typefaces he wanted to use in this wildly mixed typographical volume (figs. 20, 21, 22): "Calamus 2 pica rustics . . . Great primer ornamented . . . 2 line pica ornamented No. 7 . . . Enfans d'Adam . . . 2 line Saxon ornate shade . . . 2 lines English scribe text." The notes go on; some of the types were used; others were not. We can only imagine the discussions and arguments that went on between Whitman and the typesetters as the professional compositors found their shop invaded by an author who was also a printer. "The typographical appearance of the book has been just as I directed it," Whitman wrote to his brother Jeff; "The printers and foremen thought I was crazy, and there were all sorts of supercilious squints (about the typography I ordered, I mean)—but since it has run through the press, they have simmered down. Yesterday the foreman of the press-room . . . pronounced it, in plain terms, the freshest and handsomest piece of typography that had ever passed through his mill—I like it, I think, first rate—though I think I could improve much upon it now. It is quite 'odd,' of course." Whitman was working at every level of design to suggest unity in diversity, binding a nation of wildly different interests together instead of coming apart at the seams. He illustrated his hopes typographically as well as textually.

Figure 20.

Figure 21.

Figure 22.

Thayer and Eldridge, like so many publishers after the beginning of the Civil War, went out of business by the end of 1860, and their projected long relationship with Whitman never materialized (though Whitman and Eldridge would stay close friends and would meet again in Washington during the war). Whitman would not have a commercial publisher again for twenty years. Thayer and Eldridge sold the electrotyped plates of the 1860 edition at auction. The publisher Richard Worthington bought the plates for the 1860 edition in 1879 (after they had passed through a number of other hands), and he began in 1880 to reissue the book (fig. 23), much to Whitman's disgust, since it appeared just as Whitman was preparing his final authorized edition of Leaves. Whitman and Worthington reached an uneasy truce whereby Worthington paid Whitman a small royalty that Whitman accepted without ever acknowledging Worthington's right to keep issuing the book.

Figure 23.

Early reviews of this edition often commented on the physical object itself: "The paper, print, and binding are indeed superb," wrote one reviewer in The Spectator; "but one thing these gentlemen have forgotten: where are the phallic emblems, and the figures of Priapus and the Satyrs that should have adorned the covers and the pages of this new gospel of lewdness and obscenity? Its frontispiece should have been, not the head and shoulders of the author, but a full-length portrait drawn as he loves to depict himself in his 'poems'—naked as an Anabaptist of Munster, or making love like Diogenes coram populo." And the Westminster Review put it this way: "If Mr. Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass had been printed on paper as dirty as his favourite topics,—if the book itself had presented the general aspect of that literature which usually falls under no other criticism than that of the police office, we should have passed it by without notice, as addressing only such a public as we have no concern with; but when a volume containing more obscenity and profanity than is perhaps elsewhere to be found within the same compass, presents itself in all the glories of hot-pressed paper, costly binding, and stereotype printing, and we believe as a fourth edition, it is manifest that it not only addresses, but has found a public of a much wider class, and it becomes a question how such a book can have acquired a vogue and popularity that could induce an American publisher to spend so much upon its outward setting-forth."

Leaves of Grass Imprints. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, June 1860

Thayer and Eldridge published this paperbound pamphlet made to resemble fading brown leather in order to advertise the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass (fig. 24). The pamphlet consists of reprinted reviews of the 1855 and 1856 editions from publications such as the North American Review, London Leader, the New York Daily Times, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and the Phrenological Journal. There is a single leaf advertising the availability of Leaves of Grass; the verso features a sample table of contents from the edition. At the back is a similar leaf of advertisements which features excerpts from New York Illustrated and the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette. The verso of this leaf advertises the "Just Published" edition as "An Elegant Book" and as "[o]ne of the finest specimens of modern book making."

Figure 24.

Drum-Taps (1865) and Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865–66)

The Civil War changed everything, including Whitman's publishing plans. While he did not contemplate abandoning Leaves of Grass, he did begin planning his first book not titled Leaves of Grass. Even in 1860, Thayer and Eldridge, before going bankrupt, had advertised a new forthcoming volume by Whitman to be called Banner at Day-Break. When the war began, he had started writing war poems while still living in New York. After visiting his wounded brother George on the battlefield outside Fredericksburg in 1863 and then deciding to stay in Washington, DC, Whitman was eager to publish a collection of Civil War poems and wrote in his notebook, "I intend to move heaven & earth to publish my 'Drum Taps.'"

Poetry publishing had come to a virtual halt in the U.S. during the war, however, and publishing was expensive, especially because of the high costs of paper, which was scarce. War poetry was not popular (only Whittier seems to have succeeded), and in 1865, when Whitman finally got around to publishing the book, much of the nation wanted to begin to forget the war, not relive it. Whitman ultimately published the book on his own: "I shall probably try to bring out myself, & stereotype it, & print an edition of 500," he wrote to his friend William O'Connor, adding that "I could sell that number by my own exertions in Brooklyn & New York in three weeks." In 1865 he wrote to O'Connor again: "I feel at last, & for the first time without any demur, that I am satisfied with it—content to have it go to the world verbatim & punctuation. It is in my opinion superior to Leaves of Grass—certainly more perfect as a work of art, being adjusted in all its proportions, & its passion having the indispensable merit that though to the ordinary reader let loose with wildest abandon, the true artist can see it is yet under control." "Still," he continued, now thinking of Leaves as an older sibling of Drum-Taps, "Leaves of Grass is dear to me, always dearest to me, as my first born, as daughter of my life's first hopes, doubts, & the putting in form of those days' efforts & aspirations—true, I see now, with some things in it I should not put in if I were to write now, but yet I shall certainly let them stand, even if but for proofs of phases passed away."

Whitman now had a clerkship in the government, giving him a source of income and allowing him to think about paying a printer and a binder. He prepared a broadside to advertise the book, and, like his manuscript list of contents for the 1855 Leaves, this one lists a very different set and sequence of poems than appeared in the book just a couple of months later. He prepared the broadside before contracting with the printer Peter Eckler in New York. Eckler (1823–1906) was a radical publisher, a longtime member of the New York Freethinkers, who would eventually reprint a number of Whitman's favorite books—Volney's Ruins, the works of Thomas Paine (Eckler also wrote a biography of Paine), and the atheist Robert Ingersoll's works. As was the case with the radical abolitionists Thayer and Eldridge, Eckler's association with Whitman suggests the poet's radical political and philosophical leanings. Eckler advised Whitman to hold off on publication, since the price of paper was going to come down, but Whitman insisted on pushing ahead and, as he did with the 1855 edition of Leaves, he re-ordered his poems to make them fit on nine eight-page signatures: the final poem appears on page 72 of the book, and every page is filled with type; he often inserts very short poems to fill up any blank space on a page. His contract with Eckler had originally specified that the book would "be done on new Long Primer type & make one hundred & twenty pages, consisting altogether of one hundred & twenty thousand ems—& the workmanship is to be first class in every respect." Eckler must have talked Whitman into using larger paper to save money (thus requiring a shuffling of the order of poems). Once again, the poet/printer hovered over Eckler, reading proofs and seeing the book through press, as it was printed by Coridon A. Alvord from stereotype plates.

Whitman's decision to push ahead with the publication turned out to be unfortunate, since Lincoln's assassination occurred while the book was being printed. Whitman quickly added a short poem that he squeezed into the final signature, called "Hush'd be the Camps To-day," with the notation "A. L. buried April 19, 1865." Newspapers had announced that the president would be interred in Congressional Cemetery that day, but then the decision was made to move the body back to Illinois, so Whitman's book was finished with his hasty attempt to acknowledge Lincoln's death now headed by an error. He had already paid J. M. Bradstreet & Son in New York to have a hundred copies bound, but he decided at this point to stop everything and add a sequel to the book that would more fully deal with the loss of Lincoln. Copies of the original Drum-Taps without the sequel appeared in a brownish red cover and are now very rare (fig. 25), since most copies seem to have been withdrawn from distribution to be rebound with the sequel added in.

Figure 25.

Back in Washington, DC, Whitman had three more eight-page signatures printed up, carefully filling up the additional 24 pages with poems, some composed rapidly, including his great odes to Lincoln, "O Captain! My Captain!" and "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd." The sequel was printed at Gibson Brothers in Washington, and the title page (fig. 26) for the sequel is the first Whitman title page to contain a publication place outside of New York or Boston: "Washington. / 1865–6." Again, Whitman gives us a fragmented date, this one straddling the last year of war and the first year of reconstruction, just as his 1860–61 Leaves had straddled the last year of peace and the first year of war. On the title page, too, is a striking rendition of the title of "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd," with the letters formed out of broken limbs and branches, the title visually alluding to the reconstruction the nation would be going through as it tried to form a union again out of the shattered fragments of the war. There is a poignancy to the small "and other pieces" that follows the "Lilacs" title on the title page, since "Lilacs" itself focuses on "the debris and debris of all dead soldiers" and on "the staffs all splinter'd and broken." It's as if Whitman's typeface on the title page indicates he is making his poetry out of that splintered and broken debris.

Figure 26.

The small volume was available for sale by the beginning of November, 1865. Bound in a dark red binding with goldstamped title on the front cover (and blindstamped on the back), the book extends Whitman's Civil-War-era color scheme associating the book with blood and/or autumn. Gibson Brothers printed 1000 copies, and Abraham Simpson bound 500 copies. In an arrangement that is still murky, the New York publishing firm Bunce and Huntington (who had the same year published William O'Connor's famous defense of Whitman called "The Good Gray Poet") became the unacknowledged publishers and/or distributors of the book; some ads list the book as a Bunce and Huntington publication, but the firm seems quickly to have withdrawn its support, and the book did not sell well. One reviewer called the book a "plain slight volume."

The Fourth Edition of Leaves of Grass (1867)

The first postbellum edition of Leaves of Grass is probably the least studied of the various Whitman editions and the most difficult to find. Though there was only one printing of this edition, there are at least three different versions because Whitman was already trying to figure out how or even whether the Civil War fit into Leaves of Grass. At times Whitman indicated Leaves was now a book of the past, "proofs of phases passed away," but at other times he believed that Leaves would have to evolve with the changing nation, absorb its traumas and work toward its uncertain future. In the summer of 1866, he wrote that he was "coming to New York, principally to bring out a new & much better edition" of Leaves. By the end of August he had engaged the New York printer William E. Chapin to have "the composition & presswork done in from two to three weeks." Copies were available by October of 1866.

This is the least impressive Leaves of Grass as a physical specimen. For the first time, there is no frontispiece engraving of the poet and no visual decorations at all. The printing is unimaginative, the bindings (in two forms) insubstantial, and the variations maddening. Whitman paid to have the volume printed, and he clearly sought the cheapest way to get the job done. But in terms of what the edition has to teach us, it is an important one indeed, as Whitman here has begun to reformulate Leaves of Grass for a newly reconstructed United States of America, a nation now tempered and sobered by a bloody internal war that would forever haunt its history and undermine the optimistic predictions of America's future. The very plain typeface in such striking contrast to the flamboyance of the wild variety of type in the 1860 edition, and the absence of Whitman's defiant working-class frontispiece of 1855 and 1856 or the bohemian frontispiece of 1860, all signal a quieting of Whitman's "barbaric yawp" and a stripped and bare reassessment of the nation's (and the poet's) prospects (figs. 27, 28).

Figure 27.

Figure 28.

In the first copies of the 1867 edition, Whitman performed his own textual version of healing surgery, suturing the leftover and still-unbound pages of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps into the back of his new volume, thus binding the poetry of the war into Leaves of Grass. This was the first step in Whitman's ongoing experiment with how to bleed the Civil War into Leaves. In the 1871 and 1881 editions, he would radically shuffle and cluster his Drum-Taps poems so as to make the war integral to (instead of simply appended to) Leaves of Grass.

So the first copies of this edition include Drum-Taps, Sequel to Drum-Taps (though not listed in the primary table of contents), and a new separately printed cluster of poems called Songs Before Parting bound into the back of Leaves of Grass as separate entities with their own title pages and pagination. When he ran out of the already printed and unbound copies of Drum-Taps and Sequel, he issued a version with only Leaves and Songs Before Parting. Then he issued a version with only Leaves of Grass. There have been reports of other variations as well—a copy with Drum-Taps and Songs Before Parting but without Sequel.

First British Edition of Poems by Walt Whitman (1868)

The publisher John Camden Hotten approached the British critic William Michael Rossetti (brother of the poets Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti) with the idea of a selected edition of Whitman's poems. Rossetti was a great admirer of Whitman's work, and he began a long correspondence with Whitman about the nature of the selection, suggesting that a number of Whitman's more controversial terms (like "father-stuff") would need to be altered for British sensibilities. Whitman initially agreed, but he balked when Rossetti began to talk about cleaning up all the poems and issuing a complete expurgated edition of Whitman's work. Whitman finally agreed that Rossetti could omit any poems in which he found anything objectionable, but he could not alter poems. The result was a book that did not include "Song of Myself" or any other controversial Whitman poems.

The frontispiece portrait (fig. 29) performs the same emasculation on the 1855 image that the book performed on the poetry: in the first appearance of this "working-class" Whitman since the 1856 edition, Hotten had the engraving re-done and had the engraver cut the portrait off at the chest, making sure that no crotch appeared on the representation of this poet. Sexuality was thus removed both visually and linguistically. Whitman tried desperately to get Hotten to change the engraving, which he called "a marked blemish" on the volume; Hotten indicated he would replace it, but then reneged. Late in his life, Whitman regretted making his compromise with Rossetti, allowing an expurgated edition to appear: "I'd say even to dear Rossetti, all or nothing."

Figure 29.

This would not be Whitman's last encounter with Hotten, who would several years later print a pirated edition of the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass. Hotten was an aggressive publisher, initially printing up 1500 copies of Poems by Walt Whitman and having a thousand bound (it would be reprinted in various editions well into the 1940s by Chatto and Windus, which took over Hotten's firm when Hotten died in 1873). While Whitman had increasingly negative feelings about Hotten, when Rosssetti's selected edition first appeared the poet was impressed and even endorsed Hotten's idea to distribute the book in the U.S. ("It is not improbable that a very handsome & steady sale of the English volume may be effected here," he wrote to Hotten; "My book has never been really published here at all & the market is in a sort vacant of supplies"). Hotten, meanwhile, advertised the book by associating Whitman with Swinburne and William Blake (whose works he also published).

The Fifth Edition of Leaves of Grass (1871) and Passage to India (1871)

The bibliographic chaos evidenced in the production of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass only proliferates with the new and completely restructured edition of 1871. For this edition, Whitman absorbed his Drum-Taps and Sequel poems fully into the architectonics of Leaves, creating several Civil War-related clusters of poems: "Drum-Taps" (now quite different from the book Drum-Taps), "Marches now the War is Over," "Bathed in War's Perfume." Civil War poems have now been scattered through the book, indicating Whitman's desire to make all of Leaves cohere around the experience of the war.

The first issue of this book appeared in September 1870, bearing an 1871 date on the title page (but 1870 on the copyright page). Again, no author or publisher is listed on the title page, only a place and date, and the place this time is (as it was for Sequel to Drum-Taps) Washington, D.C., clearly in Whitman's mind now not only his own home but the place he wants Leaves of Grass situated. It is ironic, then, that for this first Washington edition of Leaves, he returned to New York to have the book printed there by the publisher J. S. Redfield, "140 Fulton St., (up stairs)." Redfield, like William E. Chapin with the 1867 Leaves, served as a publisher under contract but assumed little or none of the costs of compositing or printing the book; Whitman paid the bills. Leaves of Grass was not selling well, and publishers were unwilling to take much of a risk on it; Whitman was still depending on friends and connections and his own bargaining skills to get publishers to do the work as cheaply as possible. Still, Redfield's name appears on the front cover of the book, on the light green background that Whitman came to prefer around this time, binding his book in green for the first time since before the war (fig. 30). The book, with Redfield's New York address on the front cover below a Washington, D.C., imprint, manifests one of the many divisions in Whitman's life and mind at this time: the place of his youth and of the first two editions of Leaves of Grass vs. the place of his sudden aging during the war and its aftermath; the nation's crowded emerging cultural capital vs. the nation's newly restructured political capital. Both places were crucial for Whitman, and the 1871 edition inscribes the dual allegiance.

Figure 30.

Redfield had been the publisher of a second edition of John Burroughs's little book about Whitman (Notes on Walt Whitman Poet and Person) in 1871, so—just as he had used William O'Connor's publisher to help distribute the 1867 edition—he now enlisted Burroughs's publisher for the 1871 edition. It is notable that the nominal publishers of the 1867 and 1871 editions both published books about Whitman for which they put out more money than they did in publishing books by Whitman. The 1871 edition was electrotyped at Smith & McDougall on Beekman Street in New York.

But while Whitman was preparing what he called "my new & improved edition," he was simultaneously making plans to abandon Leaves of Grass and begin a whole new project. As was the case when he initially wrote Drum-Taps, it now seemed to him that Leaves had somehow come to conclusion, and that the 1871 edition would be the last. He had absorbed the war into his book, and he felt he needed to turn to something new. He was imagining a companion volume to Leaves, a book that he said would focus on the spirit in the way that Leaves had focused on the body. He called this new book Passage to India, and he had Redfield print it and issue the slim volume in light yellow-green wrappers, with Redfield listed on the cover as publisher (fig. 31). Several months before the book appeared, Whitman wrote to his old Brooklyn friends Andrew and Thomas Rome, the printers who had done the first edition of Leaves, and indicated that he had sent his Passage to India manuscript to them to have it set in type and proofread. Clearly, Whitman was maintaining his longstanding friendship with these Brooklyn job printers, who continued to set type for Whitman over the years (they also set type for proofsheets of a number of his 1860 poems). He continued to look to the Romes' job shop as a place for quick typesetting to give him his poems in printed form so he could see what they looked like on the page, do his final corrections on typeset copies of his poems instead of having to work further with his often chaotic manuscripts, and then turn in the Rome sheets to the publisher as printer's copy. Andrew and Tom Rome remained his personal typesetters.

Figure 31.

The little Passage to India book was conceived by Whitman as the start of his new big second book project. He announced in a preface to another small pamphlet called As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free that Leaves, his "epic of Democracy," had now had its "published expression," and that "the present and any future pieces from me are really but the surplusage forming after that Volume, or the wake eddying behind it." He believed he would now focus his work on "this Supplementary Volume" to be dedicated to giving voice to "Democratic Nationality" just as Leaves had been "the song of a great composite Democratic Individual." He spoke of Leaves more and more often in the past tense. But, at the same time, he was already binding Passage to India into Leaves, including it in his second issue of the 1871 edition, where—just as he sewed Drum-Taps and Sequel into the 1867 edition—he bound in the pages of Passage, still bearing their own title page and pagination. As was always the case for Whitman, his wavering notions about his books and their relationship to each other are permanently on record in the array of book objects he created. At the back of this second issue was an advertisement that ironically let readers (who were holding in their hands a book with Passage included) know where they could purchase individual copies of Passage to India.

After All, Not To Create Only (1871)

This little book, reprinting Whitman's poem that was commissioned for the Managers American Institute Exhibition in New York in 1871, was printed by Roberts Brothers in Boston, and stereotyped by John Wilson and Son in an edition of 2,000 copies; at least 300 copies remained unbound as late as 1889. Whitman eventually re-titled the poem "Song of the Exposition" and included it in Leaves of Grass. Whitman issued the book in two different colored bindings (figs. 32, 33), initiating a pattern he would follow with others of his last books—to give readers a choice between dark green and dark red. He had moved from green to red from the 1850s to the 1860s, but now he embraced both colors, though still keeping them separate. He was proud of this little book, talking about how "wonderfully neat" it was: "How healthy the print!—the big clean type!" And he found particular significance in the cover: "This is my design—I conceived it."

Figure 32.

Figure 33.

So much for Whitman at this point seemed split in two—New York and Washington, antebellum and postbellum, Leaves and Passage to India, poetry and prose. One side of Whitman wanted to keep things separate, divide his life and his books into two, but another side (usually the winning side) desired to merge them again, to join the dichotomies. It was the dynamic of his own nation, what the North and South had gone to war over—to be separate or to remain united—and he was living it out in his own life and in his books, both in what his books were about, and in what his books manifested in their physical appearance. A single book, but two different covers: one spring, one fall; one youth, one age.

Democratic Vistas (1871)

Whitman books proliferated in these early years of the 1870s. His long, rambling essay Democratic Vistas, bringing together three separate essays he had written (two of which appeared in the journal Galaxy, where the third was scheduled to appear but never did), appeared as a pamphlet in 1871, also issued by Redfield in the same light green paper covers (fig. 34). Around 500 copies were printed, but the book did not cause a ripple, receiving only two known substantial reviews, both in England, where many of the original copies were shipped to be sold there. Whitman's democratic theories and his projection of a reconstructed democratic future clearly resonated more in England than in the United States, and starting in 1888, handsome and even deluxe editions of Democratic Vistas (with other shorter prose pieces by Whitman) appeared in Britain as part of the popular Camelot Series issued by the publisher Walter Scott in various bindings (figs. 35, 36, 37, 38), while the book was largely forgotten in America, even after Whitman incorporated it into Two Rivulets and then into his prose collection Collect.

Figure 34.

Figure 35.

Figure 36.

Figure 37.

Figure 38.

As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free (1872)

One of the oddest of Whitman's books, this little gathering of poems emerged from his desire to "print my College Poem in a small book." The "College Poem" is "As a Strong Bird" (later titled "Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood"), which Whitman recited at Dartmouth College in June 1872 after he had been invited by a group of Dartmouth seniors to deliver a commencement poem (apparently as a kind of expression of student independence from the faculty). Whitman made the most of the fact that he had now become respected enough to be invited to the Ivy League by making sure the event was covered in many newspapers and by issuing this commemorative book containing his Dartmouth poem and six others. The most important thing about the little book is the preface, one of Whitman's most revealing and thoughtful examinations of his work, its direction, and its purpose. Whitman returned to his pre-war dark green cover with the title goldstamped on the front (fig. 39). It was printed by Samuel W. Green in New York in an edition of 572 copies, 300 or so of which were bound.

Figure 39.

Second Printing of the Fifth Edition of Leaves of Grass (1872)

The second printing of the 5th edition includes two issues. It is bound in dark green cloth with blank front and back covers and a simple spine goldstamped only with "Leaves / of / Grass / Complete" (fig. 40). The first issue bears the same copyright page and date (1870) as the previous printing and has a similar title page (with 1872 now substituted for 1871) (fig. 41); it again includes both Leaves of Grass and Passage to India, bound in at the end of the volume with its own title page and pagination, though this section does not appear in the table of contents. Whitman at this point did not call these add-ons to Leaves of Grass "annexes," as he would officially label his old-age poems that he appended to the final editions of Leaves, but he clearly had begun to think of his book as easily expandable: ever since he had sewed the Sequel into Drum-Taps, it was as if he realized the convenience of simply annexing separately published items as the first step in incorporating that work fully into the book. So Drum-Taps, Sequel, and Songs before Parting get annexed to the 1867 edition, then absorbed seamlessly into the 1871 edition, which itself expands by annexing Passage to India, which would then get absorbed into the 1881 edition. Whitman's experience as a housebuilder may be relevant to the way he imagined book objects: when you needed more space for a new resident, you added an annex.

Figure 40.

Figure 41.

Whitman was much more content with this printing of the fifth edition, what he called his "new edition, from the same plates as the last, only all bound in One Vol.—neatly done in green cloth, vellum." 500 copies were printed, and Whitman corrected a number of typographical errors in this printing. For this printing, Whitman also had a new printing of Passage to India made, still with its own title page (now dated 1872), but he first used up the remaining sheets of the 1871 printing of Passage, binding them in to the first copies with a canceled 1872 title leaf before using the new Passage sheets.

One copy of the 1872 edition on display in the exhibition was owned by J.W.H. Rolleston, Whitman's earliest German translator (fig. 42); his inscription appears on the front flyleaf: "J.W.H. Rolleston / Trinity College. Dublin. / 1872". As is the case in many nineteenth-century copies of Whitman's books, the owner used blank spaces on the pages to talk back to or to talk about Whitman; Rolleston's notes at the end of the table of contents (in the space where Passage to India should be indicated) draw a connection between Whitman and Wordsworth: "Walt Whitman answers remarkably to Wordsworth's definition of a poet, see Pref. to IInd Ed. Of Lyrical Ballads, 'a poet is a man, speaking to men . . . " (fig. 43).

Figure 42.

Figure 43.

The British Pirated Fifth Edition of Leaves of Grass(1872)

Things get even more bibliographically murky with the decision by the London publisher, John Camden Hotten, who had published William Michael Rossetti's 1868 expurgated Poems by Walt Whitman, to pirate an edition of the 1871 Leaves. Rossetti and Hotten had hoped to be able to bring out at some point a full and unexpurgated edition of Leaves (indeed, Rossetti had hoped his expurgated edition would pave the way for such an edition), but only Hotten could have figured out this underhanded way to make it happen. Hotten was a colorful figure in British publishing, infamous for his involvement in what many considered to be pornographic literature. He became Swinburne's publisher when other publishers shied away from him because of charges of obscenity. He published many American writers (including Hawthorne, Lowell, Holmes, and Ambrose Bierce), and he was notorious for offering spurious editions of various writers.

Some bibliographers, including Joel Myerson, label this the sixth edition of Leaves of Grass, even though Whitman had no involvement with it (or even knowledge of it), and even though it is a type facsimile of the fifth edition. Since it is an entirely new setting of type, however, it does fall into a category of its own. Hotten printed his pirated edition anonymously in England, carefully resetting the entire book to look just like the original American publication, so that he could pose as the importer and distributor instead of the publisher, in order to avoid riling the authorities about possible violations of English censorship laws (it was less risky to import books that might break obscenity statutes than to publish them). While the edition does closely resemble the second issue of the American fifth edition it hoped to forge, many differences have been discerned. This edition was printed and bound in folios of 8's, rather than 12's. It bears the copyright 1871 rather than 1870 and includes the text of After All, Not to Create Only (which is not listed in the table of contents), in addition to Leaves of Grass and Passage to India which are listed in the table of contents). At the page level this edition varies from the fifth edition in line breaks and the decorative elements between poems.

Hotten offered the book in three colorful bindings (figs. 44, 45, 46)—the red and green that Whitman had preferred for his own cover colors and also the blue that Rossetti's edition of Poems by Walt Whitman had appeared in. The spine is goldstamped with a decorative element at the very top and bottom. The title and author name are also goldstamped ("Leaves / of / Grass. / Walt Whitman") and the spine bears an additional decorative element, an image of sunflowers in tall grasses, and the word "Complete" underneath (a signal to British readers that this is the unexpurgated version). It is ironic that the pirated British version of Whitman's fifth edition was marketed with more durable covers than Whitman could afford for the original.

Figure 44.

Figure 45.

Figure 46.

The 1876 Printing of the Fifth Edition

In 1876, during America's centennial celebration, Whitman, now living in Camden, New Jersey, decided to reissue the fifth edition, repackaged now as a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with each copy personally signed by Whitman. His first attempt to do this involved getting James Arnold, a binder in Philadelphia, to bind the leftover pages of the second printing in a new binding, a light brown leather and orange cloth, blank front and back covers, with a spine goldstamped with double rules and decorative floral panels. The very top of the spine is goldstamped with, "CENTENNIAL / Ed'n – 1876," the middle of the spine includes the title and author, and the very bottom of the spine is goldstamped with "Portraits" (fig. 47).

Figure 47.

The title page has changed significantly in this issue, as well, bearing not only the title and place of publication (now Camden, New Jersey) and date (1876), but also a new short poem, serving as an invocation for the book ("Come, said my Soul, / Such verses for my Body let us write . . ."), and ending with the lines "Signing for Soul and Body, set to them my name," followed by a blank space where Whitman added his signature in each copy (fig. 48). This edition of Leaves thus becomes the first to bear Whitman's name on the title page, though it is not printed on the page, only signed. Technically, then, his title page remains stripped of his name.

Figure 48.

Following the signature is the notation "AUTHOR'S EDITION. / With Portraits and Intercalations." These intercalations, or small separately printed pieces of paper pasted into the book, make this particular issue quite unique (fig. 49); one intercalation is a slip pasted onto the Contents page listing the location of the Intercalations (four short poems pasted on blank spaces on pp. 207, 247, 359, and 369). As we have seen, Whitman from 1855 forward was chary about wasting paper; his printer's eye did not like much blank space (and his tight financial situation could not allow it). In this case, it's as if he could not stand the half-blank pages he found in the fifth edition and so filled them up with poems that closed the spaces (just as he had done in Drum-Taps). The intercalations have a different typeface for the titles, creating a touch of the typographical playfulness he had achieved in the 1860 edition (when he reprinted the book again and included the intercalated poems, however, he standardized the typeface). One additional striking intercalation is Whitman's change of the title of his famous Civil War poem; called "The Dresser" up through the 1871 edition, he now altered it to "The Wound-Dresser" and had the new title printed (in type that matches the typeface of other titles) and pasted in over the old title. We have seen Whitman altering his books in many ways, but this version is the first to try pasting in additions and revisions.

Figure 49.

Whitman had originally conceived this issue as a special volume in another way: it would become the illustrated edition of Leaves. His notebooks show he was working in the mid-1870s to contact the engravers of his early frontispiece images—John C. McRae, who did the 1855 portrait, and Stephen Alonzo Schoff, who did the 1860 portrait (and who was now engraving for the U.S. mint). Since the 1860 edition had been stereotyped and the plates sold at auction, Whitman could not retrieve Schoff's engraving, but he managed to get the 1855 steel engraving and also to procure a new wood engraving from William James Linton, an outstanding British engraver, based on an 1871 photograph of Whitman by G. C. Potter (fig. 50). So this issue of Leaves includes two images, the first images of Whitman to appear in his book since 1860, and the first reprinting of the famous 1855 portrait in twenty years. This volume also includes a single leaf inserted between the back flyleaves advertising a number of Whitman's works, including various editions of Leaves of Grass, Two Rivulets, and Memoranda During the War.

Figure 50.

Whitman then undertook a third printing of the fifth edition, printed by Samuel W. Green of New York, using the Smith and McDougal electrotyped plates. The first issue of this printing is known as the "false" edition and bears a cancelled title leaf, while in the second issue the title leaf is integral and is quite similar to the title page in the second printing, second issue, with the title, short poem, Whitman's signature, and the place and date of publication (fig. 51). This issue is still labeled the "AUTHOR'S EDITION," but the following line has been altered from "With Portraits and Intercalations" to "With Portraits from Life." The intercalations of the former issue have been incorporated into the text in a single printing, with uniform typeface, and no longer exist as separate, pasted-in additions. The McRae 1855 engraving and the new Linton engraving remain in this issue as does a similar advertisement for Whitman's work between the back flyleaves. The binding, once again done by James Arnold, is somewhat different with half cream leather and red, blue, and green marbled paper. The spine goldstamped with "Leaves / of / Grass / Ed'n 1876" (fig. 52).

Figure 51.

Figure 52.

Two Rivulets (1876)

In a continuing effort to cash in on the nation's centennial celebration, Whitman decided in 1875 "to bring out a volume . . . partly as my contribution to our National Centennial." The book would be called Two Rivulets; as Whitman explained the title, "two flowing chains of prose and verse, emanating the real and ideal." Whitman's continuing obsession with dualities now carries over into the tensions between prose (the language of the "real") and poetry (the language of the "ideal"). Prose had long been involved in Whitman's poetry, of course: the first edition of Leaves of Grass began with a long prose preface, and the 1856 edition contained the long prose letter to Emerson as well as Emerson's letter to Whitman and a number of reviews of Leaves. But now he engaged in a much more experimental way the joining of poetry and prose: Two Rivulets combines prose and poetry on the same page by separating the two with a wavy line, poetry running across the top of the page and prose along the bottom (fig. 53).

Figure 53.

In addition to this new experimental prose/poetry section, Two Rivulets contains Democratic Vistas, Centennial Songs, As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free, Memoranda During the War and Passage to India, each with its own title page and pagination, since he was in some cases using already printed unbound pages from the various independently published books. Whitman limited this Centennial Edition to 100 copies, printed in Camden (his first book to be printed in his new city) and bound by James Arnold in Philadelphia in two different bindings (black leather with marbled paper sides, and brown leather with orange cloth). The spine is gilded with an ornate pattern; a small dark blue-green panel at the top is gilded with "Prose & Verse"; a dark red panel is gilded with the title, "Two / Rivulets"; and two additional small panels of dark blue-green are gilded with, "Walt Whitman" and "Centennial / Ed'n – 1876". The volume contains a copy of a G.F.E. Pearsall photograph of Whitman pasted onto a sheet of paper and inserted just before the title page indicating: "Photo'd from Life, Sept., '72, Brooklyn, N.Y.," with each copy signed "Walt Whitman / born May 31 /1819" (fig. 54).

Figure 54.

A second printing has the same title page and contains the same printed sheets for the following sections, Two Rivulets, Centennial Songs, Memoranda During the War, but all other pieces have been printed with revised plates. This printing was bound in half cream leather with red, green, black and white marbled paper; the spine is gilded with a decorative design and the title, "Two / Rivulets / Prose & Verse" with double rule above and below. The Pearsall photograph is not signed in all these copies.

Whitman's friend and literary executor Thomas Harned claimed that Whitman set type for some of this book "at the printing office of the 'Post' in Camden," where the editor, Henry Bonsall, "extended to him all the facilities of a printing establishment." Once he settled in Camden in 1873, he quickly made connections with the newspaper and printing community there (his closest young male friends in Camden, Horace Traubel and Harry Stafford, both were associated with newspapers and the printing trade, and Whitman met Stafford while working on his Centennial Edition at the New Republic office). Bonsall, the owner and editor of the Camden Daily Post and New Republic, along with his son Bart (who co-edited and eventually ran the Post), became for Whitman what Andrew and James Rome had been for so many years—the printers who would always do Whitman a favor, make their shop available to Whitman, set things in type for him to use as proofsheets, let Whitman set some type himself. Their print shop made possible Whitman's explosion of new books during the 1870s.

The book is a striking example of Whitman's innovation in design. It also demonstrates his recurring desire to pull together the various books he had published over the previous months and years under one cover, with smaller separate publications always eventually working their way into larger compilations. Whitman had the first 100 copies bound to match his first printing of the 1876 Leaves, so that the two books could be sold as a Centennial set, then bound the rest to match the later printings of the 1876 Leaves, again to be offered as a matching set of his "complete" works. It is notable that he keeps Passage to India (where he had placed "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd") in the Two Rivulets volume instead of incorporating it into Leaves, as if he is still thinking of it as a potential separate book. Only in 1881 would he finally collapse Passage into Leaves.

Memoranda During the War (1876)

Whitman had been working on this project ever since the Civil War, when he began keeping notebooks about his experiences with soldiers he encountered when he went to Fredericksburg to check on his wounded brother George. In the years following, he encountered tens of thousands of soldiers in Washington Civil War hospitals and kept notes of his visits. He wrote numerous dispatches for newspapers and kept thinking about combining his war journalism and notebook entries to produce a volume. In 1863, he proposed his "new book" to James Redpath, the radical Thayer and Eldridge author who had published a best-selling book on John Brown and was now turning his efforts toward publishing (he produced a line of low-cost books to be sold to soldiers, and it is clear that Whitman imagined his Memoranda being marketed in this way); he told Redpath the book was called Memoranda of a Year and would be "a book of the time, worthy the time—something considerably beyond mere hospital sketches." He designed a title page and drafted a circular for the book and sent them to Redpath, suggesting the volume be advertised as "a book indeed full of these vehement, these tremendous days." Redpath answered cautiously, warning of "the lion in the way—$," and saying he would check with "jobbers" about the feasibility when Whitman had the manuscript ready. Nothing happened.

It wouldn't be until 1875, during the resurgence of publishing activity that Whitman experienced after he had taken up residence in Camden, that he finally brought the book—what he now called "my War-Hospital Memoranda of ten & twelve years since"—to print. In the years after the war, many successful reminiscences of Civil War hospitals, written mostly by nurses, had come out—Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches, of course, but also others like Georgeanna Woolsey's Three Weeks at Gettysburg and Jane Stuart Woolsey's Hospital Days. Whitman was aware that there was a market for such books, but his, of course, would be something different from a nursing narrative. Working again with Harry Bonsall at the New Republic Printing Office in Camden, Whitman had the book in print by December of 1875 (printed by Bonsall and Carse—George B. Carse was proprietor of the New Republic). Whitman paid for the printing of a thousand copies and, by April 1876, had 750 bound by James Arnold in Philadelphia after using a hundred copies for inclusion in Two Rivulets.

The title page (fig. 55) bears the title Memoranda During the War, and for the first time the words "by Walt Whitman" appear on a title page (the title page of Drum-Taps had contained Whitman's name, but only as part of the title—"Walt Whitman's Drum-Taps"). The title-page date is "1875–'76," and the cover (fig. 56) is stamped in gold with the lines "WALT | WHITMAN'S | MEMORANDA | OF THE WAR | Written on the Spot | in 1863–'65." The discrepancy in the titles is striking: Whitman was clearly having trouble deciding on the title for the book, and it is possible that he changed his mind one final time between the printing of the book in late 1875 and the binding of it in 1876 (Whitman would refer to the book from then on as "Memoranda of a War," thus seeming to authorize the cover title instead of the more familiar title-page title).

Figure 55.

The individually bound copies of the book (as opposed to the book as it was bound into Two Rivulets) have a page inserted before the title page, headed "Remembrance Copy" (fig. 57), that allowed for Whitman to inscribe each copy to the buyer or recipient. After the inscription is a printed "Personal—Note" addressed to a "Dear Friend" from "W.W." The copy in the exhibition is inscribed to "Geo: S. and Keziah Groff / their friend the author." The inscription page is followed by the same portrait engravings that appeared in the 1876 Centennial Edition of Leaves. The volume is bound in a dark red cloth (which has now faded to a brown)—Whitman's preferred Civil War color—and is blindstamped on the cover with a triple rule frame.

Figure 56.

Figure 57.

The Sixth Edition of Leaves of Grass (1881)

Whitman hit the big time when he was contacted by James R. Osgood's prestigious publishing house in Boston and was asked to submit his new edition of Leaves of Grass for consideration. Back in 1860, when Whitman had last had a commercial publisher, it was a Boston house too, but Thayer and Eldridge was a radical, aggressive, upstart company; Osgood, on the other hand, was as staid and established as an American publisher could be. James Osgood had started as a clerk in the great Boston publishing house of Ticknor and Fields, and he became a full partner when Ticknor died in 1864; at Field's retirement in 1871, the firm became James R. Osgood & Co. The firm had cornered the American literary market with Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, Stowe, and many others (as well as being the American publisher of British writers like Dickens, Scott, and Tennyson). But after a disastrous few years that included a fire, financial panic, and business mismanagement, Osgood was bought out by Henry Oscar Houghton, who became senior partner, and, after another fire, Houghton and Osgood parted ways, splitting up the company and leaving Osgood with lots of bound and unbound books but no authors (the authors remained under contract to Houghton). So, in 1880, Osgood became James R. Osgood & Co. again and set out to recruit authors. He was looking for writers with a reputation—famous or infamous—and he soon lined up Mark Twain, George Washington Cable, and Walt Whitman.

Whitman's friend John Boyle O'Reilly served as emissary, writing to Whitman that Osgood was interested in publishing his book. Once again, lightning had struck: out of nowhere, a reputable Boston publishing firm was offering to make Whitman respectable and to actually pay him to publish his book. Whitman wrote to Osgood, immediately taking over as designer and producer, as was his custom with bookmaking: "My plan is to have all my poems, down to date, comprised in one 12 mo: Volume, under the name "Leaves of Grass"—I think it will have to be in brevier (or bourgeois) solid—and I want as fine a (plain) specimen in type, paper, ink, binding, &c. as bookmaking can produce—not for luxury however, but solid wear, use, reading, (to carry in the pocket, valise &c)—a book of about 400 pages to sell at $3." He warned Osgood up front about one key issue: "Fair warning on one point—the old pieces, the sexuality ones, about which the original row was started & kept up so long, are all retained, & must go in the same as ever."

Osgood negotiated a contract with Whitman, and, just as he had done in 1860, the poet/printer packed up and headed to Boston to oversee the work, to sit with the compositors and argue about typeface and design. Osgood, in fact, used the Rand, Avery printing office, the same printers Whitman had sat next to when he supervised the production of the Thayer and Eldridge 1860 edition; it's likely that he actually encountered some of the very same men twenty years later. He recorded in his daybook for August 1881 that he was "in Boston printing my book": "spent the forenoon at Rand & Avery's printing office Franklin street, outlining matters of type, size of page, & other details—the superintendent Mr Clark very kind & thoughtful—appears as though I was going to have things all my own way—I have a table & nook in fact a little room, all to myself, to read proof, write, &c." In September he was still "In Boston, printing the Osgood book": "I am at the printing office some hours every day." In mid-October, as he was finishing up, he records a "Saturday Night—Boston—Supper &c, with the printers & proof readers." He wrote this event up as an anonymous news article for the Boston Advertiser and told his sister that he "gave a reception to my Boston friends, especially the printers &c. We had a jolly time too—there were three hundred came & went . . . but one such affair will answer for a life time—I enjoy'd it, but I don't want any more." Whitman was clearly loving his time back in the printing trade.

Meanwhile, he did not hesitate to continue to give Osgood publishing advice: "I was thinking something might be done with an extra bound edition for the holiday book trade for '81–2 for gift books." Osgood had been known in his earlier days for very decorative and bright bindings, so Whitman cautions him again: "The press-work (which I hope will be very carefully done, & with good ink)—& the binding, color, style, (strong, plain, unexpensive, is my notion, nothing fancy) are now about to be prepared for immediately, & the plate printing to be at once put in hand . . . . I am in favor of its being trimmed & bound that will be as eligible as possible for the pocket, & to be carried about—&I am not in favor of wide margins." He told Osgood that he wanted the book to be "markedly plain & simple even to Quakerness"; it was to be, he said, "a well made book for honest wear & use & carrying with you."

Now that Whitman once again had possession of the 1855 steel plate engraving (he had procured it from the engraver McRae for the 1876 edition of Leaves), he was anxious to use it in the new edition and had it transferred to Osgood. The engraving was not used this time as a frontispiece (there was no frontispiece portrait in this volume) but rather was printed opposite the first page of "Song of Myself."

Whitman was happy with Osgood's work and wrote one friend in September 1881 that "My book is finished in the type setting & plate-casting, & if things turn out wrong any way I shall have only myself to blame, for I have had my own way in every thing." He was remarkably content: "my treatment from Osgood has been of the best—the prospect for the book (sales &c) seems to be fair—there are already quite a number of orders—it is all ready, & will be delivered & for sale 4th Nov."

For this edition, Whitman totally rearranged his poems and clustered them in new arrangements. Whether or not he believed at the time this was the final arrangement, it in fact was. All issues of Leaves after this are printed from the Osgood plates (with annexes added on). This would become the authorized final arrangement of his poems, the post-Reconstruction version of his life's work.

1,010 copies were printed in October and the Osgood firm wrote to Whitman to let him know initial sales were strong and that "the first edition is all gone & we are binding up the second." The first three printings totaled 2000 copies. The title page, for the third and last time in Whitman's career, bore a Boston imprint (fig. 58). There are two bindings, the familiar yellowish cloth with gold stamping and a light brown leather with marbled paper-covered sides. In a nod back to the 1860 Boston edition, the cloth edition reprises the symbol of the hand with the butterfly on it, stamped on the spine just as it was in the 1860 edition (fig. 59).

Figure 58.

Figure 59.

But just as everything seemed so rosy, the bottom fell out. The New England Society for the Suppression of Vice (affiliated with anti-obscenity campaigner Anthony Comstock's infamous New York outfit) complained to the Massachusetts Attorney-General about the availability of Leaves. On March 1, 1882, the District Attorney of Boston, Oliver Stevens, wrote to James R. Osgood & Co. and advised them that Leaves of Grass fell "within the provisions of the Public Statutes respecting obscene literature" and advised Osgood to "withdraw" and "suppress" the book. Osgood was understandably concerned and wrote to Whitman asking him to allow them to prepare a new edition "lacking the obnoxious features." Later in March, Whitman received from Osgood the list of passages that the District Attorney had demanded be "expunged" from Leaves; it was, Whitman said, a "curious list" and included lines like "I turn the bridegroom out of bed and stay with the bride myself, / I tighten her all night to my thighs and lips" and entire poems like "A Woman Waits for Me," "To a Common Prostitute," and "The Dalliance of Eagles."

Whitman responded on March 23 by sending a copy of Leaves marked with the emendations he would agree to; this copy has been lost, but the poems for which he agreed to minor changes were limited to "I Sing the Body Electric," "A Woman Waits for Me," and "Spontaneous Me." Osgood responded by saying "the official mind" would not be satisfied with Whitman's small changes and demanded that all of "A Woman" and "Common Prostitute" be omitted. On April 10, Osgood wrote to Whitman that the District Attorney indeed did not find Whitman's alterations acceptable: "Therefore as your views seem to be irreconcilable with those of the official authorities there seems no alternative for us but to decline to further circulate the book." In May Whitman received from Osgood a payment of $100 and all "the plates, sheets, dies, &c. of 'Leaves of Grass.'"

More bad news came from England, where Whitman had arranged with David Bogue of London to issue a British edition of the book. He had already been turned down by another British publisher, Trübner & Co., and Bogue issued the book in a distinctive binding with horizontal black rules at the top and bottom of the cover (fig. 60); sales initially were good, but the firm ran into financial difficulties, and Whitman's English friend Anne Gilchrist informed the poet that "I fear you will be a loser by Bogue's bankruptcy." 400 copies had been sent to England to be bound there with a Bogue title page. (Finally, in 1883, a Scottish edition was issued by Wilson & McCormick of Glasgow in an initial edition of 500 [fig. 61].)

Figure 60.

Figure 61.

Left now with 225 sets of unbound sheets from Osgood, Whitman decided to sell them as an "Author's Edition." He contacted his friend Henry Clark, superintendent of the Boston Rand, Avery printing company, with whom Whitman had spent so much time only a few months earlier, and asked him to prepare a new title page, the details of which he left "to Mr Clark's taste." Then he asked Avery, Rand to print up 1000 new copies of his book, but they refused, still concerned about legal action that might be taken against them for printing obscenity. So, with his new title page, he simply had the remaining loose sheets bound (in contrast to Osgood's yellow cover) in dark green cloth (his nostalgic old color for Leaves). Then in June he signed an agreement with Rees Welsh & Co. in Philadelphia to publish Leaves from the Osgood plates (fig. 62). Rees Welsh printed five different impressions of Leaves by October: the Boston banning had generated both publicity and sales—by one estimate, totalling between two and three thousand copies in one day.

Figure 62.

David McKay, a twenty-one-year-old Scottish immigrant who worked for Rees Welsh and who ran the non-law-book side of the business, had decided Whitman would be a great author to have on board, and when he took over the business from Welsh in 1882, he became Whitman's friend, strong supporter, and publisher for the rest of the poet's life. Sherman and Company, printers in Philadelphia, printed the new issues from the Osgood plates, with new title pages and bindings to match the Osgood edition (fig. 63) (some calf-bound copies were made available for a premium price, though apparently none has survived).

Figure 63.

For the 1881 edition, Whitman's name appears twice on the binding, once in a goldstamped framed facsimile autograph on the front cover, and again on the spine, where the name forms the very ground of the "Leaves of Grass" that appear above his name in both words and visual emblems, as if the leaves are literally growing from Walt Whitman (fig. 59). As with the earlier editions, Whitman plays out the pun of his title, with the title letters formed out of and surrounded by leaves of grass, their roots visible below his name. And on down the spine is Whitman's beloved hand and butterfly emblem, now with the butterfly-soul appearing on the verge of taking leave of the body-hand: Whitman, still suffering the aftereffects of a stroke, was now convinced his life was near its end. The odd yellowish-olive cast of the cover cloth suggests autumn now instead of the summer-green of the early editions, and the tall grass on the spine looks like hay ready for the harvest.

McKay issued fifteen more reprintings of the book in various forms. Whitman never again created a new edition of Leaves, though he did add two "annexes" and repackaged the book in different ways. In large part because of the "banned in Boston" scandal, the 1881 edition sold better than any previous edition of Leaves. McKay used various bindings, though the yellowish familiar one is most common. One particularly odd-looking binding (fig. 64) nearly matches the ill-fated Bogue English binding and may indicate that McKay was shipping some books to England for sale there in a form that would have been familiar to British readers.

Figure 64.

Specimen Days & Collect (1882)

Whitman had been working on expanding Memoranda During the War to include his pre-war days and his post-war life, creating an oddly disjointed autobiography (Whitman calls it "the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed") that he now called Specimen Days. He had suggested to Osgood that his firm publish the book (then to be called Specimen Days and Thoughts), but the obscenity scandal put an end to those discussions. David McKay at Rees Welsh, as Whitman's new publisher, however, was anxious to keep cashing in on the controversy and agreed in the summer of 1882 to publish the book, which would include not only Specimen Days but also many of Whitman's other prose writings, including Democratic Vistas, his essay on the "Death of Abraham Lincoln," his various prefaces, and the prose stream from Two Rivulets. Surprisingly, Whitman also decided to include some of his early and long-forgotten fiction and pre-Leaves poetry. The book was another Whitman compendium, bringing between one set of covers a diverse group of writings, but this time presenting them in uniform type and sequential pagination. He thought of it as a prose volume to match his Leaves of Grass, and Rees Welsh published it in a matching binding so that buyers could own an attractive set of Whitman's work (fig. 65).

Figure 65.

The book was out by September of 1882, and the first printing of a thousand copies sold out immediately. It is interesting to note that while Whitman kept his name off the title page of the 1881 Leaves of Grass, he allowed it to appear on the prose volume, where "By Walt Whitman, Author of 'Leaves of Grass'" appears (Whitman asked to have the comma after his name removed, but it wasn't) (fig. 66). The first printing appeared under the Rees Welsh imprint; the second and succeeding ones under David McKay (who bought out Rees Welsh in November of 1882).

Figure 66.

Again, there is no frontispiece portrait of Whitman in this volume, but after p. 122 there is a photograph of Whitman with a butterfly on his finger, which has been pasted onto the verso of a stiff paper and is covered with a protective tissue (fig. 67). The photograph, taken by Phillips and Taylor in Philadelphia, was a mild source of controversy because the butterfly is not real and is merely a prop, though Whitman at times asserted (perhaps jokingly) that it was real. It appears opposite a page of Specimen Days where Whitman talks of the "white butterflies" that he sees on one of his trips to Timber Creek in New Jersey: "You can even tame such insects," he writes; "I have one big and handsome moth down here, knows and comes to me, likes me to hold him up on my extended hand." This led friends and readers to question Whitman's honesty, specifically with regard to his relationship with the natural world. Most interesting, however, is the fact that the photo appears to bring to life the image of a butterfly on a finger goldstamped on the spine of this edition.

Figure 67.

British Edition of Leaves of Grass [Selected] (1886)

Edited by the Welsh writer Ernest Rhys, this British edition of Whitman's poems (fig. 68) is another expurgated one, carrying on the tradition of the 1868 Rossetti edition and indicating that it was still at least somewhat risky in the 1880s to consider publishing Whitman whole in England. For this edition, Rhys was working for Walter Scott, the publisher of the popular Canterbury Poets series, ornate little books with red borders on the pages and birds on the cover. As with Rossetti's edition nearly twenty years earlier, all the most controversial Whitman poems (including the "Children of Adam" cluster) are absent here. Rhys convinced Whitman that his edition would be inexpensive and thus could reach a far larger audience than the expensive Scottish edition of his 1881 Leaves. Whitman claimed that 10,000 copies were sold.

Figure 68.

November Boughs (1888)

One of the most remarkable things about Whitman is that as his health deteriorated, he increased his publishing activity. Part of the reason was his new circle of friends in Camden and Philadelphia; many of them were printers, book people, or newspapermen—the Bonsalls, George Ferguson (the Philadelphia printer who set type for many of Whitman's last books), James Arnold (the Philadelphia binder), and, most importantly, Horace Traubel, trained as a typesetter and an active publisher and printer his whole life. He became Whitman's close friend and disciple when he was a teenager, and, as he grew up, he became Whitman's emissary to the Philadelphia/Camden printing and publishing community. Well-connected himself, he carried messages from the poet to printers, binders, typesetters, proofreaders all over both cities. During the last four years of Whitman's life, from March 1888 to Whitman's death in March 1892, he recorded his daily conversations with Whitman (now published in nine volumes of well over 5000 pages), among which are detailed publication histories of Whitman's last books.

The first book we have this record for is November Boughs, Whitman's attempt once again to merge poetry and prose in one book, this time by "scoop[ing] up what I have (poems and prose) of the last MSS since 1881 and '2." He kept announcing the book as imminent starting in March of 1887, and finally, in 1888, when Traubel asked him when he was going to bring it out, Whitman's response was telling: "it will come out, and before long, God willing, and you, Horace Traubel, willing: for I shall need you to help me through with this expedition. If you go back on me now I might just as well fold my sails." Traubel would now be his lifeline to ongoing publishing activity, and it turned out he was more than up to the task (fig. 69).

Figure 69.

The book contains 64 poems and a lot of prose, including "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads" and an essay on Elias Hicks. The poems are striking reflections on old age, and everything about this book, from the color of the binding to the title to the frontispiece portrait, suggests a kind of November of the soul, the self heading into winter and death. The frontispiece, an odd photograph/engraving combination made by Frederick Gutekunst in Philadelphia, with a photographed Whitman seated in a sketchily engraved natural setting next to a broken-off tree, is a kind of mirror image of his 1855 portrait (fig. 70). Once again (and for the first time since 1855), Whitman appears in a full-body pose, one hand in his pocket, open shirt collar, hat on, fixing the reader with his gaze. But now his other hand holds a cane, his body is bent with age, and he sits on a poorly engraved seat of some sort; the caption is "The 70th Year.....taken from life." Though his friends hated the portrait, Whitman found it "a satisfying picture, all in all." Traubel wanted Whitman to reject it, telling the poet that even the engraver admitted "it is bum." But Whitman said it "serves our purpose," and he seems to have liked its lack of "finish," its halfway state between art and reality (where the "Walt Whitman" of the poems seemed to live). Along with the 1855 portrait, this one forms a kind of full cycle, from the starting to the parting.

Figure 70.

Whitman worried about the binding of the book, ordering Traubel to make changes in the lettering when he saw the first sample. Whitman worked directly with the printer Ferguson in Philadelphia and the binder Frederick Oldach and then sold the books to David McKay to be published under the McKay imprint. It was printed in an edition of around 1000 copies. It appeared in six variations of a deep red binding, the first a flexible red binding with plain gold printing on the cover (fig. 71). Whitman at first liked this cover, then decided he wanted stiffer boards with the cover print the same as the title page, including the intriguing spiral designs (fig. 72). For the third printing, bound after the poet's death, his executors moved to a deep green cloth (fig. 73), creating the familiar red/green companioning of Whitman's books—spring and autumn.

Figure 71.

Figure 72.

Figure 73.

Complete Poems & Prose (1888)

Whitman never lost his passion for joining disparate parts into a whole: it was the basis of his politics, his philosophy, and his bookmaking. He wrote to one acquaintance in 1886 that "I think of . . . bringing out a complete budget of all my writing in one book." Finding himself uncomfortable about not owning the plates for Specimen Days & Collect, he decided to try to buy them from David McKay. McKay refused Whitman's offer, but the poet got McKay's permission to use the plates for his Complete Poems & Prose, which would also include the 1881 Leaves of Grass and November Boughs. Horace Traubel was again involved in getting this big book out, and he and Whitman had endless discussions about all aspects of its production. At one point the poet told Traubel, "I am in a hurry—in a hurry: I want to see the book in plates: then I can die satisfied. We will attend to the presswork and binding when we come to it. The main thing is the plates—the plates. Horace, I am on the verge of a final collapse: I look on the future—even tomorrow, next day—with a feeling of the greatest uncertainty. I am anything but secure: let us make the book secure."

When Whitman finally got copies of the big book from the binder Frederick Oldach, Traubel records his reaction, and we can see just how fully Whitman was immersed in every aspect of his bookmaking: "Oldach had done the job at last. W. greatly pleased. Fondled it. Inspected it from cover to cover. Turned it over and over. 'I can only express myself in my old phrase: I thank God it's no worse! And then I can go on and say it's better—far, far better—than the best I looked for.' Pointing to the stamping. 'That part of it does not overwhelm me—I am not overwhelmed by it.' I asked: 'Are you ever overwhelmed?' 'Yes, I think I am: that simple back put on the other book was extremely fine—was a stroke of genius.' After a pause and further examination: 'Still—I like this, too—in spite of all I like it: the other was very well in its place but maybe I'd get tired if I had a house full of 'em!' He suggested to me that if I found myself anywhere near Oldach's I should 'go in and tell him' for W. that 'the cover was a great joy to us: we like it: we think we will accept it.' Had I found out the name of the fellow who did the work? 'Even the letterpress comes out as never before: it seems like a new venture: it's fresh—verdant.' Eyeing the book from all angles. 'I ought to be proud of it: I am proud of it: I think you should be too: it's yours as well as mine: it's our joint product: the complete work of Walt Whitman and Horace Traubel: how'd that sound? I feel I have very much to be grateful for: no one can know—perhaps no one but you and me can know—through what doubts, difficulties, chagrins, this came safely at last. It's like a ship, at last got into port after many storms, trials, losses—after a long painful voyage.'" Traubel and Whitman got into some contentious discussions over the binding, with Traubel afraid Whitman would go with a binding so cheap that it would not last: Whitman's retort was "it will do its work: it's not made for always: it will last: moreover, it has an identity, as that leather cover has not: that leather book has a binder's cover, not an author's cover."

Whitman ended up selecting three different bindings for the book, one with dark green cloth and marbled paper-covered sides; one with dark green leather and dark green cloth; and one with brown buckram (figs. 74, 75, 76). For the title page (fig. 77), Whitman used a new process that allowed for print to cross over a photograph; he used a profile photo of himself on the title page (Whitman liked the idea that he was pictured looking out from the book into the world) and had "Poems & Prose" set in a type similar to that used on the title page of November Boughs, even reprising the same dual spiral decorations, here incorporated as the endless tails of the "s" in "Poems & Prose." Originally Whitman had wanted to call this retrospective volume Walt Whitman Complete, but Traubel suggested they change the name so as to avoid the inevitable joke that would result by having those words surround the detached head of the poet.

Figure 74.

Figure 75.

Figure 76.

Figure 77.

The pages of this book are nearly three inches taller and two inches wider than the 1881 Osgood edition of Leaves, and yet the text is printed from the same plates. Whitman by this time was experimenting with paper size, creating vastly different books from the same plates. He would widen and narrow margins the rest of his life to create diverse book objects: at first glance it seems impossible to believe that some of the final issues of Leaves are printed from the same plates.

Reprinting of the 1881 Edition of Leaves of Grass (1889)

One of the most interesting and rarest book objects deriving from the 1881 edition is the fourteenth printing, a special edition issued in honor of Whitman's 70th birthday in 1889. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. Whitman's old dream of creating a New Bible once again takes precedence here, as he chooses "Oxford Bible paper" and a fancy Biblical black leather cover (Whitman had Oldach bind the first batch with the book title on the back cover and with a wraparound tongued flap [fig. 79], but Whitman's close friend Dr. Richard Bucke did not like the flap, and Whitman had other copies bound with a standard black Biblical cover, title on front [fig. 78]). This edition has the look and feel of a Bible, and Whitman's choice of the relatively straightforward goldstamped printing of the title and his facsimile signature removes much of the playfulness of the earlier covers. This book bespeaks a new seriousness and earnestness—no sprouting leaves or perched butterflies here—and enfolds Whitman's radical poetics in a very traditional cover. The lush marbled endpapers in some copies even contain an accordion pocket so the reader could presumably store exegetical notes. The pages of this book, made from the same Osgood plates from which the big Complete Poems & Prose was printed, are here more than three inches shorter and two inches narrower, an amazing compression of space given the fact that the type is identical. Whitman has added to this book an "annex" to Leaves of Grass, "Sands at Seventy," made up of the poems from November Boughs (plus "Old Age's Lambent Peaks") (fig. 80). This process of "annexing" new material to the plates of the 1881 Leaves would continue with Good-Bye My Fancy being added to the Deathbed Edition of Leaves.

Figure 78.

Figure 79.

Figure 80.

It is conceivable that Whitman picked up his long lines, his powerful rhythms, and his poetic cataloging techniques from the Bible, but his language in the early editions had been fresh and colloquial and unbiblical. Increasingly after the Civil War, though, Whitman's poetic diction became more Biblical and latinate, and lines like "O soul thou pleasest me, I thee," became more common. His strategies for reaching a broad American readership had changed: now no longer a fellow worker speaking to his comrades in their everyday language, Whitman by the end of his life had become the revered "Good Gray Poet," looking more and more like a Biblical prophet, binding his book in Biblical black, and speaking in scriptural diction.

Gems from Walt Whitman (1889)Selected by Elizabeth Porter Gould. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1889.

One of the oddest Whitman books to be made during Whitman's lifetime was this little selection by Elizabeth Porter Gould, what Whitman called the "oblong" book, and not just because of its shape. David McKay, Whitman's publisher, thought it would be a good idea to offer an anthology of the best of Whitman, so this became the first volume of selections of Whitman's poetry published in the United States. The edition opens with Porter's own invocation poem, "To Walt Whitman," and a biographical note, followed by forty pages of brief poems from Leaves of Grass and snippets of longer poems. As with the British selected editions by Rossetti and Rhys, Gould's book avoids the controversial and sexually charged poems. The volume is bound is a dark reddish brown cloth with "Gems / From / [a facsimile of Whitman's signature]" stamped in gold on the front cover, with the color, typeface, signature, decorations (two small sunbursts or flowers), and decorative "DMcKay" in the corner all recalling the cover of November Boughs (fig. 81).

Figure 81.

Whitman often expressed contempt for "these gems, extracts, specimens, tid-bits, brilliants, sparkles, chippings—oh, they are all wearisome: they might go with some books: yes, they fit with some books—some books fit with them: but Leaves of Grass is different." Leaves of Grass, Whitman argued, could never be extracted or "gemmified": "The whole theory of the book is against gems, abstracts, extracts: the book needs each of its parts to keep its perfect unity. Above everything else it stands for unity. Take it to pieces—even with a gentle hand—and it is no longer the same product." But he was complicitous with the taking to pieces of Leaves, and he gave his reluctant "assent" to Gould's "birthday book" project. When it appeared, he examined it warily and said of the cover, "For looks, it starts out well, . . . and the title-page—it is good, too, though I never did believe in the book and don't now." Whitman's love/hate relationship with the selected version of his poems derived from his desire to be remembered as a poet; he knew that American education was developing in such a way that anthologies ("schedulistic books," Whitman called them) were the way poets got studied, and if he didn't make the anthologies, he might be entirely forgotten. Maybe the emasculated selections of his work, he reasoned, would draw some readers back to the entire book. So, to get on the schedule of American literature, he grumbled through collaborations with anthologizers and editors. During the last months of his life, he was obsessed with Edmund Clarence Stedman's expurgated selection that Whitman wanted entitled Leaves of Grass, Junior. Stedman's book eventually appeared simply as Selected Poems, part of the "Fiction, Fact, and Fancy Series" for Charles L. Webster & Co. in 1892 (fig. 82).

Figure 82.

Good-Bye My Fancy (1891)

Whitman, even during the final year of his life, was working on a new book, this one what he called "an appendix to November Boughs." This notion of an "appendix" added to an "annex" stretches the figurative language of expansion and incorporation about as far as it can go. Whitman enlisted his old printing firm, Ferguson Brothers of Philadelphia, and his old binder, Oldach, and his old emissary, Traubel, to whip this final book together and get a thousand copies printed, most of which McKay purchased to sell under the McKay imprint. Some of the sheets were left unbound, because Whitman was also planning to issue a single volume edition of November Boughs and Good-Bye My Fancy, a project that never materialized, since Whitman would be dead within a year of Good-Bye's appearance. He had the book bound in the same deep red cloth that November Boughs had appeared in (fig. 83), also binding up some in deep green (fig. 84) to give to his friends, so that even in this final volume, he was still balancing his reds and greens, as he had done his whole life. The book contained both poetry and prose (what Whitman called "melanged prose 'as if haul'd in by some old fisherman's seine'"); the poems from this volume would form the second annex of the Deathbed Edition of Leaves.

Figure 83.

Figure 84.

Leaves of Grass "Deathbed Edition" (1891–92)

In 1891, Whitman was contemplating what his final Leaves of Grass would look like. Convinced he had had several near escapes from death already, he was sure now the end was near; he wrote to his friend John Johnston in September that he was getting on "badly enough—catarrhal crises" and that he now intended "to finish out (bind) L of G with 'Good Bye' & last of all 'Backward Glance' & shall then let it go as completed as I can make it." He now decided to come full circle and issue the final book in a dark green cloth reminiscent of his first edition: "the regular forthcoming cloth b'd ed'n will be in new green & stamp." He told Dr. Bucke in December that Leaves was "at last complete—after 33 y'rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old—the wonder to me that I have carried it on to accomplish as essentially as it is, tho' I see well enough its numerous deficiencies & faults—(At any rate 'From waiting long & long delay / Johnny comes marching home')." Because he was now in a rush to get the book out before he died, he used the sheets from the 1888 printing and added cancel title and contents pages along with the annexes. Copies were quickly bound in unprinted brown and gray wrappers so Whitman could send the book out to friends before he died. On the green cloth copies, the spine is goldstamped at the top with "Leaves / of / Grass / Complete / 1892." and a facsimile of Whitman's signature; the bottom of the spine is goldstamped in an elaborative font with "DMcKay" with an intertwined "D" and "M" (fig. 85).

Figure 85.

One copy in the exhibit seems particularly rare and is not described in Joel Myerson's descriptive bibliography. First, the volume is smaller than other copies, perhaps due to the pages being trimmed after printing. Second, this copy is bound in a light brown or tan paper wrapper and is printed in black on the cover, "Leaves / of Grass" with two small floral designs. A facsimile of Whitman's signature appears in the middle of the volume, below in the left-hand corner the price "50 cts." is printed, and in the opposite corner an ornate, "DMcKay" is printed. The spine has a small paper label affixed to it with "Leaves / of Grass / Complete 1892 / Walt Whitman" printed on it. This particular copy has an owner's inscription on the cover, "J.H. Hott / April 1896" (fig. 86).

Figure 86.

Another copy of the 1892 Leaves in the exhibit has, pasted into the front of the book (just before the title page), a single sheet of stiff paper with a letter pasted on, written and signed by Whitman to his printer, indicating the kinds of messages he was sending via Horace Traubel to everyone concerned with publishing his book (fig. 87):

Sunday Nov:8 '91
If the new sheets are not printed & it is convenient, take the plate [inserted above with caret: of the title page] first to Ferguson & delete the 1891–'2 at the bottom & have it 1892 simply — Of course do this at once & send back to printers

Figure 87.

Another copy in the exhibit bears McKay's alternative binding for the 1892 Leaves. The volume has been bound to match McKay's earlier publications of Leaves of Grass, with an orange-yellow cloth binding featuring a facsimile of Whitman's signature goldstamped on the front cover with a single rule border around it (fig. 88).

Figure 88.

One striking feature of the 1892 Leaves is the copyright page. Here Whitman offers a catalog of all his various "editions" of Leaves (fig. 89). He had written to A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress, to get the correct dates of the copyrights of the different editions, and, after claiming all the editions here as his own (he said toward the end of his life that "the last edition is as necessary to my scheme as the first edition: no one could be superior to another because all are of equal importance in the fulfillment of the design"), he prints Spofford's confirmation of copyright for Good-Bye My Fancy and states that it could be extended to May 19, 1933. This volume is known as the "Deathbed Edition" not only because it was created just before Whitman died, but also because it has been viewed as the authoritative edition of Leaves of Grass, initiated by Whitman's own assertion (printed on the copyright page) that this is the version that should last: "As there are now several editions of L. of G., different texts and dates, I wish to say that I prefer and recommend this present one, complete, for future printing, if there should be any; a copy and fac-simile, indeed, of the text of these 438 pages."

Figure 89.

Books Making Whitman

Whitman's own bookmaking ceased with the Deathbed edition, but Whitman bookmaking continued with unabated energy. In "Poets to Come," Whitman included "orators, singers, musicians" in his call "to justify me and answer what I am for . . . / Leaving it to you to prove and define it, / Expecting the main things from you." He could well have included bookmakers in this invocation, because, for more than a century, they have responded to him as frequently and as passionately as poets and musicians. Their various constructions and restructurings of Whitman have enhanced our understanding of the range of his work every bit as much as the work of poets, biographers, and critics.

Bookmakers, like all readers of Whitman, have continued to make Whitman over in various guises, to create new Walt Whitmans—a Whitman who speaks particularly to the gay community, an ecological Whitman whose work resonates with the green movement, a socialist Whitman dedicated to a poetry of the working-class, a patriotic Whitman who celebrates America, a Whitman who speaks in an open and unaffected way to children, a Whitman who speaks across language and culture to Spanish and German and Arabic and Chinese readers. There are as many Whitmans as there are readers, and the nature of his project was to leave it to us to define him, to do the work that would make his poetry come alive for us, speak to us not just from his past but from our present. The ongoing project to make Whitman through books is an enormous and ongoing one.

The phenomenon of books making Whitman began right after his death. David McKay, of course, kept Whitman's reputation alive by continuing to publish Whitman's books, but Whitman's very protective literary executors-Horace Traubel, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas Harned—did not fully trust McKay and were also anxious to control Whitman's fate and the future publishing of his books themselves. They warned Whitman to "Watch Dave": "Several of my friends have been to me lately and said: 'You'll have to watch McKay—he's foxy—he'll do you up.' I asked them: 'Why do you suspect Dave more than others—pick him out for criticism?' They said: 'We don't—he is a publisher: that is enough: all publishers do it." Whitman generally had good things to say about McKay and appreciated his business acumen ("I shall never forget Dave's good will—nor his good sense, either, for it was good sense for a young business man to take up the Leaves while it was getting such a heap of gratuitous advertising"), but he shared some of the distrust of his executors, which seemed to grow in the final years. He told Harned that after he died he did not expect his executors to stay with McKay: "My spark'll go out any day now: I don't want to tie you fellows up: you may find reasons for going to another publisher. I wouldn't advise you to go but I wouldn't put my corpse in your way if you were disposed to make a change." The executors did in fact deny McKay the rights to continue publishing Whitman's works, and his contract to do so expired in 1895.

McKay made the most of his final years of owning the rights. Months after the poet's death, he issued Complete Prose Works, bringing together Specimen Days, November Boughs, and Good-Bye My Fancy, bound to form a matching set with the Deathbed edition of Leaves (fig. 90). His frenzy of publishing activity in the final year of holding the rights no doubt infuriated Whitman's executors, as he put out his Deathbed edition in a two-volume light-green leather decorative set (fig. 91) and then did one final huge printing of the Deathbed in 1895. At this point, the executors took over the making of Whitman books.

Figure 90.

Figure 91.

Five years later, however, McKay offered up one last very odd bookmaking tribute to Whitman, by publishing in 1900 an unauthorized edition of Leaves of Grass (figs. 92, 93), one based on the 1871 edition (then out of copyright), with variorum readings of earlier poems (also out of copyright) as well as some very early pieces, and with a frontispiece photograph of Whitman inscribed by the poet (fig. 94), "David McKay from his friend Walt Whitman." It was McKay's final tribute to Whitman and a kind of retort to the poet's executors. It was also his effort to lay claim to being Whitman's true publisher: "As his most successful publisher I saw much of him, and learned to love his sweet and kindly nature." When the book appeared, Harned sniffed, "When D. McKay was refused a renewal of his contract, he printed this edition of Leaves of Grass, using all matter where the copyright had expired." McKay, no doubt gleefully, continued to reprint the book in a variety of bindings and dustjackets (figs. 95, 96).

Figure 92.

Figure 93.

Figure 94.

Figure 95.

Figure 96.

Meanwhile the executors went to work to produce their own authorized Whitman books. They issued their own matching volumes of Leaves of Grass and Complete Prose Works in 1897 and 1898, published by Small, Maynard; they even issued a deluxe limited "large-paper" edition that vastly widened the margins (an effect that Traubel liked and Whitman despised). For their Leaves, the executors tauntingly used the same frontispiece photograph that McKay used (minus the inscription to McKay, of course) (fig. 97), and they added a posthumous gathering of poems, "Old Age Echoes," that Traubel put together from Whitman's manuscripts, creating an unauthorized "annex" to Leaves that has caused bibliographic problems ever since (many "complete" editions today exclude "Old Age Echoes," while others include it). These first executor publications were filled with materials that were previously unavailable (including, in the Prose volume, the painting by Charles Hine on which the 1860 Schoff engraving was based), all indicating that their version of Whitman's books were now the ones to trust (fig. 98).

Figure 97.

Figure 98.

Horace Traubel was the real force behind Whitman bookmaking in the years following the poet's death. Traubel records Whitman as having told him, when they began their collaboration on Whitman's final books, "I want you to reach the workmen direct—treat with the craftsman without an intermediary—with the man who sets the type, the man who puts it into form, the man who runs the foundry." Whitman in those last years could no longer sit in the printshop with the typesetters, as he had done with the Romes in 1855 and with the Avery compositors in 1860 and 1881: now Traubel had to do the hands-on work and report back to the poet, who still wanted to know all the material details of his book production.

Traubel was heavily invested in book production. He became a key figure in Philadelphia's Rose Valley arts and crafts commune and edited their journal, The Artsman. Dedicated to both labor reform and the beauty of handmade objects, he and Whitman often disagreed over what a book should look like and how it should be made. Whitman was much more optimistic about the mechanical advances of the mass printing trade in the nineteenth century than was Traubel, who admired John Ruskin, William Morris, and the art of the handmade book object. Whitman tended to prefer the cheaper bindings and the more straightforward design; Traubel argued for durability and design flourish. Even though they were both typesetters and both admired printers, their own visions of how a book object was best made and distributed differed. It's one reason Traubel had problems with David McKay, who represented to him the new business-oriented (instead of craft-oriented) printing trade. And so Traubel, after Whitman's death, went about making Whitman books in a way Whitman would never have done. Bucke, at least, shared Traubel's views on book aesthetics, and so the executors began to focus on turning Whitman into beautiful book objects.

They embarked on an ambitious project to gather everything Whitman wrote and issue it in various versions, all handsomely designed, but each with a different binding and each carrying a different level of prestige. Issued in ten volumes in 1902 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman appeared in ten different "editions," from standard to deluxe (the most expensive editions contained an actual Whitman manuscript tipped into the first volume of the set). Fewer than 1500 total copies of the Complete Writings were printed, and the volumes quickly became collector's items. In addition to a three-volume "Deathbed" edition of Leaves of Grass, the Complete Writings contained Whitman's major prose publications and a potpourri of other materials—Whitman's Civil War letters to his mother, his letters to Peter Doyle, an apparently random gathering of manuscript fragments, and some criticism about Whitman. Also included was the first attempt at a variorum edition of Leaves, beginning to track the thousands of changes Whitman made in the book over its six editions.

The 1902 Complete Writings was a luxurious edition that served to memorialize Whitman and packaged his work in a form that clearly indicated (and argued for) his importance as a writer at a time when his status as one of America's great authors was anything but secure. Anyone looking at this edition of his work knew immediately that it looked like the work of a major author—it was a multi-volume set, bound handsomely, printed on fine paper, published by a well-known and reputable press (G. P. Putnam's Sons), and accompanied by scholarly apparatus. These were books making Whitman.

The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman

1. "Author's Autograph Edition": contains an original manuscript with Whitman's signature tipped into the front of the first volume. 10 sets numbered and signed by the publisher. Green leather with decorative goldstamping and a red center (fig. 99).

Figure 99.

2. "Author's Manuscript Edition": 32 sets, signed and numbered by the publisher; includes a bound-in original Whitman manuscript. Half light brown leather and half marbled paper-covered boards. Volume 2 is divided into two separate books (fig. 100).

Figure 100.

3. "Author's Manuscript Edition" (second binding): dark brown leather; part of the same special edition as the previous one, though here Volume 2 is not broken into Parts 1 and 2 (fig. 101).

Figure 101.

4. "Paumanok Edition": signed by the publisher and limited to 300 sets; does not contain an original manuscript; printed on special Ruisdael handmade paper. Dark green buckram (fig. 102).

Figure 102.

5. "Paumanok Edition" (second binding): brown leather with pink and purple marbled paper-covered boards (fig. 103).

Figure 103.

6. "Book-Lover's Camden Edition": 500 sets printed, signed and numbered by the publisher. Gray paper-covered boards with a white vellum spine (fig. 104).

Figure 104.

7. "Book-Lover's Camden Edition" (second binding): dark reddish-brown leather with a dark red, blue, and yellow marbled paper (fig. 105).

Figure 105.

8."Collector's Camden Edition": 300 numbered and signed volumes by the publisher. Green leather and light green paper-covered boards (fig. 106).

Figure 106.

9."Connoisseur's Camden Edition": 200 sets signed and numbered by the publisher. Green leather with decorative gilding on the front and back covers (fig. 107).

Figure 107.

10."Astral Edition": 50 copies. Reddish-brown leather; differs from the other Putnam's Sons special issues not only in the binding, but also in the images included (fig. 108).

Figure 108.

With these stunning book objects setting the stage, fine presses for the next century have continued to make Whitman. For this exhibit, we have gathered some of the most striking examples of Whitman bookmaking, arranged in several groups: books dealing with Whitman and the Civil War; books focusing on the gay Whitman; books emphasizing material design; miniature Whitman books; notable illustrated editions of Whitman; books offering responses to Whitman; and international Whitman books. Images of these books, along with all the images in this catalog, will eventually be part of an online exhibition at the Walt Whitman Archive (

Original Prices of Whitman's Books

  • 1855 Leaves cloth $2 (actually sold for $1.25); paperbound 75 cents
  • 1856 Leaves $1.00
  • 1860 Leaves $1.25
  • 1865 Drum-Taps $1.00
  • 1865 Drum-Taps with Sequel $1.00
  • 1867 Leaves $3.00
  • 1871 Leaves $2.50
  • 1871 Leaves (second printing) $1.50
  • 1871 Democratic Vistas 75 cents
  • 1871 Passage to India $1.00
  • 1871 After All, Not to Create Only 30 cents
  • 1872 Leaves (pirated English edition) 9s
  • 1872 As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free 50 cents
  • 1876 Leaves $5.00
  • 1876 Leaves (second printing) $5.00
  • 1876 Memoranda During the War $1.50
  • 1876 Two Rivulets $5.00
  • 1881 Leaves (Boston edition) $2.00
  • 1881 Leaves (first English issue) 7s.6d
  • 1881 Leaves (second English issue) 4s
  • 1882 Leaves (Author's Edition) $3.00
  • 1882 Leaves (Philadelphia Rees Welsh/David McKay issues) $2.00
  • Specimen Days & Collect $2.00 ($3.00 for large-paper format)
  • 1883 Leaves (Scottish issue) 10s.6d
  • 1883 Specimen Days & Collect (Scottish issue) 10s.6d
  • 1886 Poems of Walt Whitman [Selected] (English edition) 1s
  • 1888 Complete Poems and Prose $6.00 ($6.50 with extra portraits)
  • 1888 November Boughs $1.25
  • 1888 Democratic Vistas and Other Papers (English edition) 1s
  • 1889 Leaves (in Bible binding) $5.00
  • 1889 November Boughs (Scottish issue) 7s.6d
  • 1891 Good-Bye My Fancy $1.00
  • 1892 Leaves of Grass (final printing during Whitman's life) $2.00


This project is the result of collaboration between a number of units at The University of Iowa, including the Arts and Humanities Initiative, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Center for the Book, the Department of English, the UI Museum of Art, the UI Libraries, and the University of Iowa Press. David Schoonover, Curator of Rare Books at the UI Library Special Collections, has assisted in every aspect of this project. Dr. Kendall Reed, whose collection forms the heart of the exhibition, has served as a model of how book collectors can become integral partners with scholars and libraries and museums to preserve and study our literary heritage. We are grateful to the Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa, for their contribution of an 1855 and 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. Dr. Jay Semel, director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, has offered extensive support throughout the project, as has his energetic staff (Karla Tonella, Jennifer New, and Carolyn Frisbie). My research assistant, Amy Hezel, provided me with careful bibliographic notes on the various editions and issues of Whitman's work. Sara T. Sauers, our compositor and designer, worked magic in a very short time.

Conversations with Ted Genoways, Joel Myerson, Ken Price, Gary Frost, Matt Cohen, Charles Green, Jerome Loving, and Betsy Erkkila have fed directly into my commentary, and I'm grateful to them all for their insights and friendship. Joel Myerson's Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993) is essential for anyone interested in Whitman's books (or Whitman books). Other useful resources include the Bibliography of American Literature, volume 9, edited by Jacob Blanck and Michael Winship (Yale University Press, 1991); Gay Wilson Allen's The New Walt Whitman Handbook (New York University Press, 1975); and J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings's Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (Garland, 1998).

Publication Information
Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary, by Ed Folsom, was published by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa, in 2005. Rights to the electronic edition are held by the author.

The print edition of Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman is available from the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 308 EPB, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1492, for $15.

Whitman Archive ID


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.