In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Vast national tracts

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1854 and 1860

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05354

Source: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: 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Edward Grier points out, the date on the tax forms may not correspond to the date of Whitman's writing (Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1946).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.

Contributors to digital file: Janel Cayer, Nicole Gray, Jeannette Schollaert, Kevin McMullen, and Kenneth M. Price

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Vast national tracts, (large enough for many great a swarming inland empire,) are yet entirely unpenetrated, marke —none having tra their resources ^and riches unknown.—


This vast wide wide-spread region is full of mountains.—Nature has struck out from here smoothness and monotony, and piled ridge upon ridge, chain upon chain, scattering them with prodigal profusion,colossal..—It is indeed the America of Titanic forms.— Yet there are intervals, the pastoral character is there too; of ^vast wonderful plains, hundred and even almost thousands of miles in extent.—

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(on the same plains.)

occasionally sand-dunes, encircling what might at first be supposed to be dried up lakes.


The real "plains" (as in the papers "News from the plains")

The term plains is applied to the extensive [cou?] inclined surface reaching from the base of the Rocky Mts. to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to the Valley of the Mississippi, and form a ^perhaps the greatest feature in Western Geography. Except on the borders of the streams which traverse the plains in their course to the valley of the Mississippi, scarcely any thing exists

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