In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: A large, good-looking woman

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: 1850s

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05544

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: Edward Grier postulates that this manuscript was probably written in the 1850s. The identity of the "large, good-looking woman" and the source of the story about Tom Thumb are unknown, though Grier notes that Whitman interviewed P. T. Barnum in 1847, Thumb visited the Midwest with Barnum's circus after 1851, and Thumb made an 1854 appearance with the circus in Brooklyn. For further details, see Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 1:244. It is possible that this may have been draft fragments or notes toward intended pieces of fiction.

Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Janel Cayer, Kevin McMullen, Nicole Gray, Kenneth M. Price, and Brett Barney

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A large, good-looking woman, wife of a farmer, has had twelve children; every one of whom died before living a year.—The woman has some serious inward disease, which, the doctor says would have killed her long ago had she not borne children; and that, when she has a child born that lives and grows well and perfectly ^well, the woman herself will die.—


When ^my little friend Tom Thumb, travelled with the circus he stood behind the stand, in a Missouri settlement, one afternoon, and sold notions.—Amid the crowd, came up the biggest kind of a Western bully, and presently demanded the change ^due him on for the dollar.—. . . . ."O, yes," says Tom, "all but the dollar."—Then crowds the louping giant closer up and cries, "Damn your little heart, didnt I just buy three cigars, and give you a dollar bill half an hour ago?". . . . . .Tom was up to Western rigs, and couldn't be persuaded for he had taken handled nothing but change and a gold quarter-eagle since he opened trade. On stating this, the baffled ruffian sings out, "Then I lie, do I?—Take that to remember me by!" and reaching over his long arm like ^like a windmill in a gale, hits the poor boy a staggerer that brings the blood from his nose and raises a purple cushion around one eye in short metre.—

The fifteen minutes that passed away before any of the circus people to whom this stand could be decently confided, came within

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