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Vast national tracts

  • Whitman Archive Title: Vast national tracts
  • Whitman Archive ID: loc.05354
  • Repository: Catalog of the Walt Whitman Literary Manuscripts in The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Library of Congress
  • Series: Recovered Cardboard Butterfly and Notebooks, [1847]-[circa 1863-1864]
  • Date: Between 1854 and 1860
  • Genre: prose
  • Physical Description: 2 leaves, handwritten
  • View Images: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
  • Content: The first manuscript leaf is written on the back of a City of Williamsburgh tax form, filled out and dated 1854. The second leaf is written on the back of a Brooklyn election form, which includes the printed digits "185" but has not been filled out with the specific year. Scholars, following Fredson Bowers, have generally assumed that Whitman used the Williamsburgh tax forms from 1857 to 1860, while he was working at the Brooklyn Daily Times . The city of Williamsburgh was incorporated with Brooklyn effective January 1855, so the forms would have been obsolete after that date ( Whitman's Manuscripts: Leaves of Grass [1860] [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955], xli–xliii). Most of the manuscripts Whitman wrote on the tax forms can be dated to the late 1850s. Bowers also notes, however, that Whitman may have used the forms over a considerable span of time, and that "it is not impossible that Whitman had picked up these tax forms for scrap paper at Rome Brothers at some unknown date in 1854 or early 1855, or later" (xliii). As Edward Grier points out, the date on the tax forms may not correspond to the date of Whitman's writing ( Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1946). Whitman may have found a stack of obsolete Williamsburgh forms in 1857 that included discarded draft forms dated earlier. Whitman saw something of the plains on his journey to and from New Orleans in 1848, and his most extensive trip through the west was to Denver in 1879, but he collected newspaper articles about the west throughout the 1850s, 60s, and 70s (Ed Folsom, "Walt Whitman and the Prairies," Mickle Street Review 17/18 [2005]). The manuscript is thus difficult to date conclusively, but it was almost certainly written after 1854 and probably before 1860.

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