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Date: July 1854
Place: New York
Photographer: Samuel Hollyer of a daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison (original lost)
Note: Of the day the original daguerreotype was taken, Whitman remembered, "I was sauntering along the street: the day was hot: I was dressed just as you see me there. A friend of mine—”Gabriel Harrison (you know him? ah! yes!—”he has always been a good friend!)—”stood at the door of his place looking at the passers-by. He cried out to me at once: 'Old man!—”old man!—”come here: come right up stairs with me this minute'—”and when he noticed that I hesitated cried still more emphatically: 'Do come: come: I'm dying for something to do.' This picture was the result." The job of engraving the image for the 1855 frontispiece was given to Samuel Hollyer, who wrote, "the order was given to McRae but as he was not a stipple engraver (but a mezzotint one) he turned it over to me, and I had several sittings from Walt Whitman as it was taken from a daguerrotype [sic] and was difficult to work from." Though the image portrayed him as he was that summer day, Whitman later worried it sent the wrong message, "The worst thing about this is, that I look so damned flamboyant—”as if I was hurling bolts at somebody—”full of mad oaths—”saying defiantly, to hell with you!" He also worried about the portrait because "Many people think the dominant quality in Harrison's picture is its sadness," but he nevertheless liked the portrait "because it is natural, honest, easy: as spontaneous as you are, as I am, this instant, as we talk together." Whitman guessed that at the time of this portrait he weighed "about a hundred and sixty-five or thereabouts: I formerly lacked in flesh, though I was not thin. . . ." The engraving appeared in the 1855 and 1856 editions of Leaves of Grass, then again in the 1876 and 1881-1882 (and following) editions, as well as—in a cropped version—William Michael Rossetti's 1869 British edition of Walt Whitman's poems. In reprinting it in the 1881 edition, Whitman insisted on its facing "Song of Myself" because the portrait "is involved as part of the poem." Some of Whitman's friends did not share his enthusiasm for the image; William Sloane Kennedy, for example, hoped "that this repulsive, loaferish portrait, with its sensual mouth, can be dropped from future editions, or be accompanied by other and better ones that show the mature man, and not merely the defiant young revolter of thirty-seven, with a very large chip on his shoulder, no suspenders to his trousers, and his hat very much on one side." Whitman recalled how, when the 1855 Leaves of Grass came out, the portrait "was much hatchelled by the fellows at the time—war was waged on it: it passed through a great fire of criticism." William O'Connor liked it, Whitman said, "because of its portrayal of the proletarian—the carpenter, builder, mason, mechanic," but Whitman didn't share his view.
Type: Steel engraving
Credit: Bayley Collection, Ohio Wesleyan
ID: 003

Image 003


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