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  • Whitman Archive Title: Go into the subject
  • Whitman Archive ID: loc.05620
  • Repository: Catalog of the Walt Whitman Literary Manuscripts in The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Library of Congress
  • Box: 1
  • Folder: Undated, on the American Idiom; Untitled and Unidentified
  • Series: Manuscripts
  • Date: Between 1867 and 1885
  • Genre: poetry, prose
  • Physical Description: 5 leaves, handwritten
  • View Images: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
  • Content: The rectos of these several leaves form what seems to be a piece of journalism or an essay about words, language, and names. No known publication of the piece has been found, but it is possible that it is related to Whitman's 1885 essay "Slang in America." At one point in the planning of that essay Whitman considered splitting the material he had been collecting into two articles, to be called "Words, words, words" and "Names & Slang in America" (see Edward Grier, Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1674). At the top of this manuscript Whitman has written the heading "words," as well as the title "About Names," making it unclear which, if either, of the two articles this may have been intended for. What's more, the language, tone, and content of this manuscript are nothing like those of "Slang in America," so any connection between the two is oblique. The text on the recto of the second leaf shown here (image 3) was likely intended to come either between leaves one and three, or be inserted as the opening lines of the essay. Leaves one and three used to form part of the same sheet of paper, and on the verso is another, unrelated scrap of prose (loc.05619). Leaves four and five also used to form part of the same sheet of paper (loc.05224), and on the verso is an outline for the three essays, only two of which were actually published as separate articles, that Whitman eventually combined to form the larger work entitled Democratic Vistas . As Whitman has written on the manuscript that the "Democracy" article was "already published," the date of the Democratic Vistas plan was likely written between December 1867 (when "Democracy" appeared in Galaxy ) and May 1868 (when Personalism was published). This means that the essay about names and language on the rectos was written after that date. A line on the recto of the third leaf (image 5) contains the phrase "commonest & cheapest & nearest," which had first appeared in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass , in the poem eventually titled "Song of Myself". This is one of only a few known examples of Whitman recycling lines of poetry in later prose.

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