In Whitman's Hand

Notebooks

About this Item

Title: Autobiographical Data

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1848 and 1856

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05935

Source: Notebook LC #87 |  The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images of photostats of the original, with other text supplied from Emory Holloway, Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1921), 2: 86–90; and Edward F. Grier, Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 1:209–221.

The photostats, though obviously incomplete, prove that Holloway took considerable liberties, omitting much material from his transcription, which also ignores pagination and silently reorders parts of the text. Furthermore, because Holloway offers no description of or rationale for his editorial interventions, it is impossible to know the text's original order or how much of it is not represented by either his transcription or the photostats. For these reasons, our transcription, which follows the order offered by Grier, omits the usual references to page breaks. Images of the pages represented by photostats are available here. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the notebooks, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Scholars have offered a variety of opinions regarding the date of this notebook's composition. Andrew C. Higgins notes that the latest biographical information is for 1848 and judges this to be "the earliest of the major pre-Leaves of Grass notebooks," probably used by Whitman "over a period of several years, beginning in the late 1840s." Higgins sees the racialized language and "the immature style of the poetry" as further support for an early date. Emory Holloway, in concluding that Whitman wrote the entries in "the period before 1855," focuses on a reference to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. However, as the controversy surrounding the return of fugitive slaves was current for many years before and after 1854, this reference alone does not provide definitive evidence for a particular date. Edward F. Grier believes "the winter of 1855–1856" to be the most likely date for the notebook, though "some of the contents baffle any theory of WW's development." See Higgins, "Wage Slavery and the Composition of Leaves of Grass: The 'Talbot Wilson' Notebook," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 20:2 (Fall 2002), 53–77; Holloway 86; and Grier 209.

Ed Folsom has noted that this notebook contains Whitman's "earliest draft" of the "mash'd fireman" passage of "Song of Myself," which would suggest that at least some of the notebook dates to about 1854. See Folsom, "Erasing Race: The Lost Black Presence in Whitman's Manuscripts," in Whitman Noir: Black America and the Good Gray Poet (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014), 3–31.

The original notebook is one of several that were lost during World War II, and its current whereabouts are unknown.

Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson and Brett Barney


  • Autobiographical Data
From the middle to the latter part of Oct. 1844 I was in New Mirror
We lived at Vandykes 4th of July 1826
We lived in Adams st in Brooklyn, 1827
I was in Lawyer Clarkes office in 1830—
We moved to Brooklyn in May 1823
Moved to Cranberry st 1824
Moved to Johnson st May 1st 1825
Moved to Tillary st (Martin's) 1st May 1827—moved to own house Nov lived there till Nov 1831
We lived in Henry st the winter before the first cholera summer (1830–1831?)
I was at Clements printing office in the summer of 1831—
I went to Spooner's in the fall of '32.
I was at Worthingtons in the summer of '32
I was at Spooner's when father moved in the country in 33.
We lived at Norwich in 1834.
I went up to Hempstead from New York 1st of May 1836—went to Norwich to teach school in June same year.
I kept the school west of Babylon the winter of 36–7
At Long Swamp the spring of '37
At Smithtown the fall and winter of 37—
Went to Huntington the spring of 38—
We moved to Dix Hills in May 1840
We moved from Hempstead to Babylon in 1836, August
I went from Huntington to Babylon in 1839 (Spring)
Came down to New York (after selling Nina) in the summer of 39
I went to Woodbury to teach school in the summer of 40
Fall and winter of 1842 boarded at Mrs. R. in Spring st.
Spring of 1843 boarded at Mrs. Bonnard's in John st.—
Also at Mrs. Edgarton's in Vesey.
Summer of '43 at Mary's and at Brown's in Duane st.
October 1843 commenced with the Winants'
Edited Tattler in summer of '42
Edited Statesman in Spring of '43
Edited Democrat in Summer of 44
Wrote for Dem Review, American Review and Columbian Magazines during 45 and 6—as previously.
About the latter part of February '46, commenced editing the Brooklyn Eagle—continued till last of January '48.
Left Brooklyn for New Orleans, Feb. 11th '48

I am not glad to-night. Gloom has gathered round me like a mantle, tightly folded.

The oppression of my heart is not fitful and has no pangs; but a torpor like that of some stagnant pool.

2

Yet I know not why I should be sad.

Around me are my brother men, merry and jovial.

The laugh sounds out and the beautiful sound of the human voice a sound I love.

No dear one is in danger, and health shelter and food are vouchsafed me.

3

O, Nature! impartial, and perfect in imperfection!

Every precious gift to man is linked with a curse—and each pollution has some sparkle from heaven.

The mind, raised upward, then holds communion with angels and its reach overtops heaven; yet then it stays in the meshes of the world too and is stung by a hundred serpents every day.

4

Let fools affect humility in the strength of their conceit: this brain (?) feels and claims the divine life which moves restlessly (?)

Shall a clear star deny the brightness wherewith the Hidden has clothed it?

5

Thus it comes that I am not glad to night.—

I feel cramped here in these coarse walls of flesh.

The soul disdains its

O Mystery of Death, I pant for the time when I shall solve you!

Subjects for articles

Rapid and temporary mann[illegible] of American changes of popula[illegible] for eminent statesmen.—(inst[illegible] of Crawford) (reverse instance, Pi[illegible]

Answer the objection that de[m?]ocratic forms of gov. not energet[ic?] enough in cases of emergency. (Commonwealth of England—directo[illegible] of France.)

5 4 [illegible]6 [illegible] [41?] [illegible] 164

[illegible]dlingpersons [illegible]grades [illegible]onal [illegible].—Why [illegible] [manners?] [illegible]a [illegible]ity to [illegible] from an [illegible] who [illegible] and [illegible] soil.

Give us turbulence, ^give us excitement, give us f the rage and disputes of hell,—any thing rather than this lethargy of death that spreads like a ^the vapor of decaying corpses over our land—

Why what was it—that little thing that made the rebellion of '76—a little question of tea and writing paper ^only great because it involved a great principle


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The next worst thing to having such enormous outrages put into laws and acquiesced in by the people without any alarm, is to have them practically carried out.—Nations sink by stages, first one, and then th another,

I come not here to flatter

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Why confine the matter to that part of the it involved in the Scriptures?—

The influence of the gallows fails

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There is invariably this fact about superior natures; they understand each other, and ^with similar sight behold the ^soul, the universe, immortality, and the fallacies of all the aims and arts of men.—


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1*

The constitution covenants that [illegible] the free states shall give up runaway servants—that we all know.—But by by the letter and spirit of its most important provisions, we hold the right to decide how to do it, who the runaway servants are, and to settle perform the whole thing obligation as we perform any other obligation by due process of law and without any violent or unlawful intrusion from abroad.—

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"O, liberty," said Madame Roland, "what crimes have been committed in thy name!"

"O, Bible!" say I, "what nonsense and folly have been supported in thy name!"

Calvin burned Servetus at Geneva and found his defence in the Bible.—Henry 8th Edward 6th and the bloody Mary offered up scores of victims, at the stake and gallows, for religious opinion, and found their defence in the Bible.—The Inquisition also and St. Bartholomew's horrid massacre are discover ample authority in the Bible.—

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I know that timidest America is strong, and supple, and full of growth.—I know we are on good terms with the world, and on extra good terms with ourselves.—^Treaties we make with Europe; steamships paddle ^the sea Gold comes from California, and trade is brisk, and the jobbers are busy nailing up goods, and sending them off to customers, and the railroads [go?] run loaded, and all goes gay and thriftily.—These things I do not expect to see grow less [illegible] ^of n[illegible] but more, for and if any one suppoes I am at all alarmed about the prospects of business ^on this continent he misunderstands me, for I am not—son no I see its way clear for a hundred years.—But with all [this?] ^such decking ourselves [illegible] in the robes of safety and gain, there ^at the gate sits Mordecai the Jew and we know that ^terrible sign that either [illegible] we r[illegible]t h[illegible] are to have his life, or he is to hang the best part of us on the gallows high.—

What are all your these business prospects, your these steamships, your these fat sub-treasuries and your our profitable trade? [illegible] I do not want these want brave and large souled men, wicked men if not +

If this ^Are these ^two or three drops be any prophecy of sample [held?] any prophecy of the requirements of the g[illegible] of the storm that is cooking for us? If I thought it was, [men?] of ^these would be no days of dalliance or of ease and or talk.—They would be days of for all [live?] all Americans to get on their killing clothes I should ^advise all living Americans to get on their killing clothes, for there would be a little butchering to be done


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I was years ago present at Years ago I formed one of a great crowd [illegible] that rapidly gathered where a building had fallen in and buried a man alive.—Down somewhere in those ruins the poor fellow [illegible] lurked, deprived of his liberty, and either in in danger perhaps dead or in danger of death.—How every body worked! how the shovels flew!—And all for black Caesar—for black the buried man wasn't any body else.—

Our country seems to be threatened with a sort of ossification of the spirit. Amid all the advanced grandeurs of these times beyond any other of which we know—amid the never enough praised spread of common education and common newspapers and books—amid the universal accessibility of riches and personal comforts—the wonderful inventions—the cheap swift travel bringing far nations together—amid all the extreme reforms and benevolent societies—the current that bears us is one broadly and deeply materialistic and infidel. It is the very worst kind of infidelity because it suspects not itself but proceeds complacently onward and abounds in churches and all the days of its life solves never the simple riddle why it has not a good time.—For I do not believe the people of these days are happy. The public countenance lacks its bloom of love and its freshness of faith.—For want of these, it is cadaverous as a corpse.

[illegible]eamble or [illegible]prised in [illegible] with it [illegible] being, the [illegible]othing at all [illegible] at the top. [illegible] the rest [illegible] [illegible] and [illegible][able in?] just [illegible] the sound

Going among a large collection of blind persons—the wish that they could see and have all the blessings and knowledge thence—would it make your sight any less valuable to you?


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As to the feeling of a man for a woman and a woman for a man, and all the vigor and beauty and muscular yearning—it is well to know that neither the possession of these feelings nor the easy talking and writing about them, and having them powerfully infused in poems is any discredit . . . . but rather a credit.—No woman can bear clean and vigorous children without them.—Most of what is called delicacy is filthy, or sick, and unworthy of a woman of live ^rosy body and a clean rosy affectionate spirit.—At any rate all these things are necessary to the breeding of robust wholesome offspring.—

[illegible] Indian


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In the cheerful performance of the task of presenting some reflections about on Temperance, ^and its advantages to all who practice it,

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What can be a more admirable aim for the most exalted human ambition, than the wish and resolve to be perfect?—Though the carrying out of this resolve requires some mental purification, the most of it, I think is of a physical nature. How many faults have I!—How many weaknesses!—Ah, if the flesh could but act what my rational mind, in its moments of clear inspiration aspires to, how much better I should be!—Faint not, heart!—Advance stoutly and perseveringly!

I went to edit the Aurora in April 1842.

In Jamaica first time in the latter part of the summer of 1839. In the winter succeeding, I taught school at between Jamaica and Flushing—also in February and spring of '40 at Trimming Square.—

In summer of 40 I taught at Woodbury.

Was at Jamaica and through Queens co. electioneering in fall of 1840.—

By the article of Sidney Smith (1826) it appears that at that time certain high orders of criminals had not the privilege of being heard by their counsel in their trials—jury

"I have myself," says Mr Scarlett, the English Barrister "often seen persons I thought innocent convicted, and the guilty escape."Sidney Smith
essays

"Folly, sanctioned by antiquity." Sidney Smith


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Winter of 1840, went to white stone, and was there till next spring.—

Went to New York in May 1841, and wrote for "Democratic Review," worked at printing business in New World" office boarded at Mrs. Chipmans—

—Went in April 1842 to ed[illegible] Aurora

Wrote for "sun," &c

J. W. died at Dix Hills Sept 8th 1845

There is a quality in some persons which ignores and fades away the            around the hearts of all the people they meet.—To them they respond perhaps for the first time in their lives—now they have ease—now they take holiday—here is some one that they are not afraid of—they do not feel awe or respect or suspicion—they can be themselves—they can expose their secret failings and crimes.—Most people that come to them are formal or good or eminent—are repugnant to them—They close up their leaves then.

The Pretender," son of James II appeared in Scotland.—[his?] [illegible] no avail
1727George II. (Sir R. Walpole [illegible]) [illegible] two successive reigns
1745Charles Edward, the Young Pretender came to Scotland, advanced to Edinburgh, was proclaimed king there, Battle of Culloden blasted all his hopes—after which, for six months, he wandered in disguise from cave to cave, and at last escaped to France

Adm. Byng executed.—
1764George III. (grandson of George II)
1768.Middlesex election. Wilkes' case. Wilkes was three times chosen, and refused by the house.—
1772.dismemberment of Poland between Germany, Prussia, and Russia.
1778.Earl of Chatham died, being seized with illness in the house of lords while speaking.
1789French Revolution (Bastile taken)
1790.Disruption of Burke, with Fox and Sheridan (Pitt, younger, minister)
1791Another quarrel of Burke with Fox, as he had formerly quarrelled with Sheridan in the House.—

French Revolution. The king by his weakness extortion and tyrany had incensed the people the States' general had assembled—the commons wished one body made of the three orders, and assumed the title of national assembly—Paris was (1789.) environed by a royal army of 50,000. The popular minister, M. Necker was removed, and then the insurrection broke out, the Bastile was destroyed, the king (17th July) visited the hotel de Ville and surrendered himself to the people.—In June, 1791, the king attempted to escape from Paris.—He was caught and brought back National assembly completed a new constitution, which was accepted by the king in Sept. the same year.—The Nat. As. then dissolved, and a new one was chosen, to the exclusion of every member of the former.—(Duke of Brunswick's proclamation 2nd page.) Sept 21, 1792, new Convention met, and decreed the abolition of royalty, and the formation of a republic.—Since the deposition of the king, the prisons had been filled, with suspected persons; on the 2nd of Sept. they were found open, and a horrid massacre took place.—In Dec. 1792, the Convention tried the king, convicted him, and on the 21st of Jan. 1793 he was beheaded.—

Shakspere born in 1564 died in 1615

Sir W. Raleigh born in 1552 was beheaded in 1618, under James 1st

Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, born in 1561, died in 1626.

Algernon Sidney born in 1617, died in 1683 on the Scaffold. a bold champion of liberty—was beheaded under Charles II.

Dryden, born 1631 died 1701

Tillotson, born 1630 died 1694 archbishop of Canterbury, writer of sermons.—

Sir Wm. Temple born 1629 died 1700

John Locke born 1632, died 1704

George Farquhar, Irish, born 1678, died in 1707. writer of comedies.

Addison, born 1672 died 1719.

Congreve, Irish, born 1672 died 1729. comic writer

Sir Richard Steele, Irish, born            died 1729. commenced "Tatler" in 1709—followed by "Spectator" and "Guardian".—When George I came to the throne, he received the honor of knighthood.—

Swift, Irish, born 1667 died 1744 author of "Tale of a Tub," "Gullivers Travels."

Swift, Rabelais, and Voltaire, have been accounted the three greatest wits of modern times.

Pope, born 1688 died 1744. (Queen Anne)

Sir Robert Walpole, born 1676, died in 1745. (George I)

Isaac Watts, born 1674 died in 1748 (a dissenter)

St. John, Vicount Bolingbroke, born 1672, died 1751.—At George 1st, he withdrew to France, joined the "Pretender."—Impeached of high treason, was pardoned, and afterward returned to England. He married a niece of Madame de Maintainon

Camoens, a Portuguese, contempoaray of Tasso, Italian.—C's poem on the first discovery of East Indies by Vasco de Gama

Britain

Little known before time of the Romans.—About the beginning of Christian era— Had rude forces, infantry and horses—Cesar first visited the island.—Claudius was the emperor, under whom it was subjected. Caractacus sought to free his country, was taken prisoner and carried to Rome.—"Alas! he said how is it possible that a people possessed of such magnificence at home should envy me a humble cottage in Britain?"—Boadicea, a Briton queen, [illegible]d by the Romans, fought, led her own armies, was routed, committed suicide by poison.—Romans left, after being masters for 400 years.—

After Romans abdicated, the British were so annoyed by the Picts and Scots, that they invited the Saxons, to come [illegible] from Germany, and protect them.—They came under Hengist and Horsa, brothers.—Vortigern was their king.—Treachery of the Saxons.—Prince Arthur a native Briton took up arms against them.—Es-sex Sus-sex, ^Wes-sex &c. Saxon kingdoms.—About 400 years after the arrival of Saxons, they having founded different kingdoms, and, quarrelled—all were united under Egbert of Wessex, who was crowned king of England. At this time St Gregory (Pope) (St George?) sent missionaries to convert them. (Saw some children for sale in the slave market at Rome)

Danes now invaded England, and committed great ravages. "Alfred the Great" fought against them.—Edward, Son of Alfred Ethelstan, son of AlfredEdward.—Edmund.—Edred. Edwy.—Edgar.—Edward II.—Ethelred II.—Edmund Ironside. (Danes, under Canute [illegible] invaded Eng.) Canute and Edmund, keeping the kingdom in constant war, the nobility obliged them to divide the empire.—Soon after Edward was murdered, and Canute thereby came into possession of the crown.—Harold, son of Canute.—Hardicanute, another son— Danes deposed, and Edward the Confessor, ^a Saxon, king.— Harold, son of a nobleman.— His pretensions were opposed by William, Duke of Normandy.— The crown had been left William by Edward the Confessor.— Pope in favor of William. William entered England, fought Harold, defeated him, and gained the crown. End of Saxon dynasty, after 600 years.

1066.William the Conqueror
1087William Rufus, son "
1100Henry I. (Beauclerk, son of Wm Conqueror
1135Stephen (nephew of Henry)
1154Henry II. (son of [illegible] [of their?]quarrel with Thomas a Becket Ireland conquered.) Fair Rosamund
1189Richard I (Coeur de Lion son of Henry II) (Crusades)
1199John (Magna Charta, at Runnimede)




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