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Date: Around 1860
Place: Boston
Photographer: J. W. Black of Black and Batchelder
Note: Whitman late in his life identified the date of this photo as between 1845 and 1850, but no one has agreed with him; Dr. Bucke guessed 1856, but most estimates have been a later date. Seeing this photo late in his life, Whitman exclaimed, "How shaggy! looks like a returned Californian, out of the mines, or Coloradoan," but he was fascinated with "the expression of benignity" that shone through, though he felt "such benignity, such sweetness, such satisfiedness—”it does not belong. I know it often appears—” but that's the trick of the camera, the photographer." Whitman called it his "young man" picture ("when did I not look old? At twenty-five or twenty-six they used already to remark it"), and claimed "it is me, me, un formed, undeveloped—”hits off phases not common in my photos." He described his physique at the time: "I was very much slenderer then: weighed from one hundred and fifty-five to one hundred and sixty-five pounds: had kept that weight for about thirty years: then got heavier." Whitman was amused by the clothing—”"how natural the clothes! . . . the suit was a beautiful misfit, as usual, eh?"—”and he was impressed with "its calm don't-care-a-damnativeness—”its go-to-hell-and-find-outativeness: it has that air strong, yet is not impertinent: defiant: yet it is genial." Whitman was mystified by this portrait—”he began calling it "the mysterious photograph"—”when he first saw it in 1889: "When it could have been taken—”by whom—”where—”I cannot even guess. . . . it's a devilish, tantalizing mystery. . . ." A copy in the Library of Congress notes (in Traubel's handwriting): "The only photographic copy of this picture known is in the possession of McKay, Phila. Used by W.W. In the pocket Edition of L of G. 1889." An engraving of the J. W. Black photograph appeared in "Walt Whitman," New York Illustrated News 2 (2 June 1860), 60.
Type: Print
Credit: Bayley Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University
ID: 007

Image 007


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