Selected Criticism

Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, The (1902)
Graham, Rosemary
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Upon his death, Whitman left his literary legacy in the hands of the three men who had been among his closest companions and fiercest champions during the last twenty or so years of his life: Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned. In their zeal to ensure what they saw as Whitman's rightful place in American literature, immediately following Whitman's death they began to publish from among the letters, manuscript notes, prose fragments, and other writings Whitman had left behind. Their efforts culminated ten years after Whitman had died in the first comprehensive collection of Whitman's work: the ten-volume Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1902, illustrated with manuscript facsimiles and numerous photographs and paintings of the poet.

As a scholarly resource, the Complete Writings has been surpassed and replaced by the New York University Press's Collected Writings. As the editors of the New York University collection have shown, Traubel, Bucke, and Harned's was never actually "complete." Moreover, it was put together by adoring friends who had no training in the exacting standards of modern scholarship. Yet, for anyone interested in tracing the development of Whitman's reputation after his death, the Complete Writings cannot be overlooked.

The first three volumes contain the entirety of the final, authorized version of Leaves of Grass arranged by Whitman in 1891–1892, to which he appended the following note opposite the table of contents: "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 a fac-simile, indeed, of the text of these 438 pages."

The first volume includes a biographical and critical essay which rehearses much of the information—and defensive adulation—that had characterized William Douglas O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet (1866), Bucke's Walt Whitman (1883), and John Burroughs's Whitman: A Study (1896). The introductory essay also offers a useful catalogue of the growing body of Whitman criticism that was beginning to emerge at the turn of the century not only in the United States, but in Europe as well.

The third volume of Leaves of Grass includes variorum readings, together with first drafts of certain poems, rejected passages, and poems dropped along the way. These were arranged and edited by Oscar Lovell Triggs, of the University of Chicago.

Volumes 4–10 of the Complete Writings comprise Complete Prose Works, numbered separately as volumes 1–7. The first three of these volumes reprint prose works published by Whitman during his lifetime. The remaining volumes reprint collections of letters, manuscripts, and notes of Whitman, as well as some essays by the executors drawing on that material.

Volume 1 contains part of Specimen Days (originally published as Specimen Days & Collect in 1882); volume 2 contains the remainder of Specimen Days and part of Collect. The third volume contains the rest of Collect, all of November Boughs (1888), and the first part of Good-Bye My Fancy (1891), which is continued in the fourth volume. Also in volume 4 is a reprinting of The Wound Dresser: A Series of Letters Written from the Hospitals in Washington During the War of Rebellion, which Bucke had originally edited and published in 1898.

Volume 5 of Complete Prose Works reprints all of Calamus: A Series of Letters Written During the Years 1868–1880 by Walt Whitman to a Young Friend (Peter Doyle), another title published by Bucke as a volume unto itself in 1897. Calamus also includes an account of an interview with Doyle, conducted after Whitman's death. Also included in this volume is Letters Written by Walt Whitman to his Mother, edited by Harned and issued as a single volume simultaneously with the Complete Writings. Harned wrote three essays, based on manuscript material he inherited, and included them in this volume: "Walt Whitman and Oratory," "Walt Whitman and Physique," and "Walt Whitman and His Second Boston Publishers."

Volume 6 of Complete Prose Works contains most of Notes And Fragments, another collection edited and first published by Bucke in 1899 from among his share of Whitman's legacy. Bucke's introduction to the Complete Writings version explains that the notes that were published as part one of the original Notes and Fragments were used by Triggs in his Variorum Readings or Rejected Lines and Passages in the Leaves of Grass section of Complete Writings. From the haphazard and accidental bundles and scrapbooks he inherited, Bucke arranged the material into the following categories: "Notes on the Meaning and Intention of 'Leaves of Grass'"; "Memoranda from Books and from His Own Reflection—Indicating the Poet's Reading and Thought Prefatory to Writing 'Leaves of Grass'"; "Shorter Notes, Isolated Words, Brief Sentences, Memoranda, Suggestive Expressions, Names and Dates"; "Notes on English History"; and "List of Certain Magazine and Newspaper Articles Studied and Preserved by Walt Whitman and Found in his Scrapbooks and Among His Papers." The first three appear in volume 6 of Complete Prose, the last two in the final, seventh volume. Two bibliographical essays by Oscar Lovell Triggs, "The Growth of 'Leaves of Grass'" and "Bibliography of Walt Whitman," round out the seventh volume and the collection.


Myerson, Joel, ed. Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1993.

Whitman, Walt. The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman. Ed. Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and Horace L. Traubel. 10 vols. New York: Putnam, 1902.


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