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Title: Documents Related to the 1855 Leaves of Grass: Early Draft Advertisements

Author: Stephanie Blalock

Publication information: Written for The Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2020.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.02138

Early Draft Advertisements

Sometime before Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, he arranged for the printing of a series of draft advertisements for the volume that would introduce him as "The New Poet" and his book of verse as "America's first distinctive poem." These advertisements—four in total—range in length from six printed lines that succinctly described the "green and gilt" physical appearance of the book and listed the price as $1.50 to more than sixty printed lines of prose that offered an extended introduction to Whitman and his work.

As far as we know, none of these early advertisements were published in mid-nineteenth-century newspapers or magazines exactly as they were printed here. A variation on the shortest advertisement—the least expensive to print—was published in at least two New York newspapers in June and July of 1855. The three longest of these planned promotions included biographical information about the poet and/or several excerpts from his poems; however, Whitman's financial constraints likely prevented these advertisements from filling what would have been a substantial portion of a newspaper column. The poet, after all, financed the publication of Leaves of Grass (1855) himself and, without the backing of a publisher, did not have the additional funds required to mount an extensive promotional campaign for his book (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 36).

While these early promotional materials did not circulate among newspaper readers as Whitman had likely envisioned, they can contribute to an understanding of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, and to Whitman's continuing poetic project. An exploration of these advertisements offers insight into Whitman's early efforts to prepare, develop, and sustain a readership for his poetry. They illustrate his creative practices and his writing processes, including his work at drafting and revising, as well as his affinity for printing proofs (or "slips," as he called them) for revision and for promotional purposes.1 They not only show his frequent reuse of previously composed text in a variety of forms, but they may also represent a continuation of promotional strategies learned and applied more than a decade prior, during Whitman's career as a fiction writer in the early 1840s.

Figure A. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The shortest of the early draft advertisements for the first edition of Leaves of Grass (See Figure A) begins with the headline "The New Poet," three words that serve as a literary catchphrase, signaling the way in which Whitman wanted potential readers to think of him and his "distinctive" poetry. Only later in the advertisement, two lines below the headline, would the identity of the author of "Leaves of Grass" be revealed as "Walt Whitman." In doing so, this ad functions as a brief preview of the experience of opening Whitman's book for the first time. Readers who picked up the "green and gilt" volume of Leaves, after all, would have encountered a title page from which the author's name is conspicuously absent, as well as a frontispiece engraving of a man in work clothes and a hat with one hand positioned almost defiantly on his hip, before seeing the author listed as "Walter Whitman" in the copyright statement or being introduced to the poetic persona as "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos," twenty-nine pages into the work. At the same time, this version of the advertisement suggests that Whitman was well aware that his unconventional poetry, "America's first distinctive poem," would not be readily legible to readers, buyers, or booksellers. Even in these succinct lines, Whitman instructed his audience how to approach the text, preparing them for poetic verse that would be different from what they may have encountered previously in newspapers or in other published volumes. The phrase "America's first distinctive poem" at once attested to the novelty of the poetry published by a "New Poet" and seemed to encourage readers to see "Leaves of Grass" as a single poem that encompassed the entire volume. Given this draft advertisement's brevity and functionality, it is not surprising that it became the basis for a "more subdued variation" or an even more affordable version that would be published in two New York newspapers just prior to and shortly after the publication of Leaves of Grass (1855) (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 33).

On June 29, 1855, an advertisement similar to the above draft, but without the headline declaring Whitman "A New Poet" and without the phrase "America's first distinctive poem" was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a newspaper Whitman had edited from 1846 to 1848. The edited and published version of the advertisement reads as follows: "Walt Whitman's Poems, 'Leaves of Grass,' 1 vol. small quarto: price $2. For sale by W. W. Swayne, 210 Fulton st. And at the other Brooklyn bookstores."2 Ezra Greenspan located another version of this "brief and unpretentious" advertisement on the front page of Horace Greeley's New York Tribune on July 6, 1855, which indicated that Whitman's book was for sale by both "Swayne" and "Fowlers & Wells" at their establishment on Broadway in New York (91). "Swayne" was William Whiting Swayne of Ireland (ca. 1825–1883), a bookseller and, later, a publisher in Brooklyn, and the firm of Fowler and Wells would become the publisher of Whitman's second edition of Leaves of Grass the following year, in 1856. Less than a week after the advertisement first ran in these newspapers, Swayne had his name removed from them both, and each version continued to be published without his name in their respective papers.

Whitman, however, never lost sight of the preferred phrasing that was omitted from the advertisements for the 1855 edition that did make it into print. Whitman returned to the content of his unpublished draft advertisement five years later, when the third edition of Leaves of Grass was published by the Boston firm of Thayer & Eldridge. The description of Whitman's volume as "America's First Distinctive Poem," a phrase that appeared at the start of the advertisements for the third edition that ran in the New-York Daily Tribune, was taken directly from Whitman's promotional material of 1855 (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 37).3 That Whitman revived and reused these words when he had the financial backing of Thayer & Eldridge suggests that this particular way of presenting Leaves of Grass to potential readers was important to his continuing poetic project and to cultivating the readership he envisioned for his poetry.

Figure B. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Another draft advertisement (See Figure B) introduces Walt Whitman as a writer who "dashes full grown into literature," an apt description in words of the effect of the frontispiece engraving from the 1855 edition of Leaves in which the author seems to emerge from the page as "one goodshaped and wellhung" man.4 The idea of "The New Poet," having just published his first book of verse, yet emerging on the literary scene as an author already well established enough to be considered "dash[ing] full grown into literature," echoes the language of newspaper advertisements for Whitman's first novel Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times (1842). Published thirteen years earlier in Park Benjamin's newspaper, The New World, Whitman's potboiler temperance novel was promoted as a tale from "one of the best novelists in this country" and a work by "a Popular American Author."5 Whether the characterization of Whitman as a popular novelist was his own or a newspaper editor's, the rhetorical effect is similar to that of this draft advertisement insofar as Whitman, "the new poet," much like Whitman the nationally known novelist, enters the literary scene having already built a reputation for himself by laying claim in print to being a fully developed and popular writer, as well as a self-proclaimed "bard of the masses."

Early in this advertisement, Whitman emphasizes his poetic process and creative practices, characterizing himself as a poet and a craftsman, calling himself "this workman that perpetually builds with materials out of himself." He goes on to declare that he "surrounds his work with every character in nature, agriculture, art, books, household-life," as well as the "life of the city streets" and "of the country." This passage suggests the kind of poetry that a reader of Leaves encounters, preparing them for a shape-shifting poetic persona that assumes the form of "every character" and an author whose work puts into printed characters the vocabulary of the sciences and arts, as much as it does that of the "streets and wharves."

In addition to serving as an introduction to his writing, this advertisement focuses on the importance of Whitman's biography, outlining his Long Island upbringing and his lived experience in New York. He is presented as having American heritage and a long line of ancestors with "untamed Anglo Saxon blood." But as signficant as that familial tradition and heritage might be, Whitman's writing is anything but traditional or conventional, an important distinction for readers soon to peruse Whitman's long lines that usually lacked conventional rhyme and meter. Whitman's understanding of lineage and ancestors does not, however, simply stretch into the past; he also envisions himself as a forefather of a new generation of poets that, upon looking back, will recognize and acknowledge him as an ancestor, a predecessor to their own creative processes, and a writer who shared with them the work of growing and developing a distinctive American poetry. After describing what readers can expect from his background and his style of writing, Whitman lays out expectations for his readership. He instructs them how to read Leaves of Grass, explaining "you do not follow them as reading a book, but as a willing and normal movement of you the reader." Whitman contrasts the passivity of observing and following with the far more active processes of enthusiasm and "movement" in the act of reading, which seems to be an early version of the concept of the athletic and even gymnastic reader that Whitman would later describe as crucial to the development of a democratic literature.6

Whitman went on to include some of the ideas and phrasing from this unpublished draft advertisement in a self-review for the 1855 Leaves of Grass entitled "Walt Whitman and His Poems," which was published in the September 1855 issue of The United States Review.7 In both the advertisement and the review, Whitman discusses the poets of the future; the advertisement notes that in Whitman, the United States have "come to their poetic voice" and that the poet "disclaims originality in his work, and announces the coming after him of a great breed of poets." According to Whitman, he is responsible for "the lifting of the baton to give the signal." In the self-review, Whitman writes a slightly different version of the same ideas, explaining that "Walt Whitman himself disclaims singularity in his work, and announces the coming after him of a great succession of poets, and that he but lifts his finger to give the signal." Whitman may have returned to the unpublished advertisement to preserve the image of himself as the literary ancestor of future poets; by inserting these sentences into a promotional self-review, he insured that the message would reach periodical readers and literary critics alike.

Figure C. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

A third advertisement announces the entrance of Walt Whitman, "An American Poet at last!" (See Figure C) and highlights Whitman's understanding of himself as a "Kosmos Poet" whose poetic contributions "envelop[e] all partial and sectional ideas" (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 33–34). According to the advertisement, this poet is best defined by poetic lines that catalog the various identities he references and assumes in Leaves, listing himself as "a northerner," "a planter," "A Louisianian," and a "Comrade of Californians," just to name a few. This selection of Whitman's poetry, spanning twenty-eight printed lines presents a version of the lines that would appear on pages twenty-three and twenty-four in the 1855 Leaves and constitutes an early version of what would become the sixteenth section of the final iteration of "Song of Myself."8 Whitman may have composed this advertisement using a manuscript version of the poem, and then had the advertisement printed, such that it functioned as a proof for future revisions (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 35). Those changes consisted of revisions in spelling ("Hoozier" in the advertisement, for example, becomes "Hoosier" in Leaves of Grass) and the correction of a glaring error in Whitman's phrase "A northerner as soon as a northerner" in the first line of the poetic excerpt of the advertisement. In the first edition, this line is corrected to express the inclusionary sentiment that was intended so that Whitman's line becomes "A southerner soon as a northerner."9 Whitman also condenses the line from the advertisement that specifies the names of the Great Lakes, "A boatman over Ontario, Erie, Michigan, or Champlain" to the more general and encompassing line from the first edition that reads: "A boatman over the lakes or bays or along coasts."10 In the advertisement, Whitman writes of being "At home on Canadian snowshoes, or the fishbanks"; in the first edition Whitman replaces the reference to "fishbanks"—the plateaus in the sea where fish gather in schools—with an emphasis on establishing kinship or feeling at home "with fishermen off New-Foundland."11 He goes on to make an addition to the line in the advertisement that reads "Not merely of the New World, but of Africa, Europe, or Asia," appending an ellipsis and the phrase "a wandering savage" to the line, following the word "Asia" in the 1855 Leaves.12

While this advertisement may be "the first if not the lone proof" Whitman had made as he revised this section for inclusion in the 1855 edition of Leaves (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 35), Whitman reused very little of it in his self-reviews. Whitman does, however, return to the headline, "An American Poet at Last," altering the phrase slightly to "An American Bard at Last," which he uses as the opening line for the self-review "Walt Whitman and His Poems" in the The United States Review. In doing so, Whitman is preserving a catchphrase or a literary tag line, much like "The New Poet," that could help readers remember him and his vision for his American and democratic poetic project.

Figure D. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

With a heading that simply reads "Walt Whitman," the fourth draft advertisement (See Figure D) opens by asserting Whitman as the poet of "mechanics and farmers" and as the poet of "women," a writer who "treats the equality of the sexes as an insuperable truth of the universe." What follows this assertion of Whitman as the poet of men and women equally is a lengthy block of prose that consists of phrases separated by dashes, with what appears to be its own title, "The Poem of Men and Women." According to the final sentence of the advertisement, these phrases are to be read as "foreshadowing hints, serving merely to introduce the twelve poems [of Leaves of Grass (1855)] to the reader." This introduction to Whitman's writing prepares the reader for several unconventional aspects of the poetry readers will encounter in his volume. Reading long phrases separated by dashes as a block of prose that are subsumed under a title that promises a poem becomes an example of the experience of encountering Whitman's long poetic lines that at first glance appear more like prose than poetry in his first edition. Taken together, these phrases presenting the pilot, the carpenter, and the flatboatman among others, preview the distinctive catalogs or lists of people, places, and objects that readers can find in a particular poem. The poet, the advertisement promises, actually "becomes"—through his verse—each of the characters he mentions in the list. Some of the "characters" presented here in the advertisement would be readily recognizable to a reader encountering a more extended consideration of them in Leaves. For example, "the child uttering fancies about the grass" in the advertisement serves as a "foreshadowing hint" to the inquisitive child who asks "What is the grass?" in the first poem in Whitman's book, a poem that would later be titled "Song of Myself."13 In other cases, the phrases presented in the advertisements or slight variations of them actually appear in the poem, although most often punctuated with commas and ellipses rather than dashes. "[T]he Missourian crossing the plains with his wares and his 40 cattle" in the advertisement is "The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle" in Whitman's volume. Almost all of the "hints" presented in the advertisement are referencing sections of the poem later titled "Song of Myself" between pages twenty and twenty-four of Leaves of Grass (1855), especially the parts of the poem that would later be numbered as Sections 15 and 16 in the final iteration of "Song of Myself." In addition to sharing phrases with the 1855 edition, this advertisement may also foreshadow the second edition of Leaves given Whitman's use of the title "The Poem of Men and Women," which is very similar to his approach to each of the poems in the 1856 edition, in which the titles of most of the poems begin with the words "Poem of . . ." (including one entitled "Poem of Women."

Whitman's preview of Leaves of Grass (1855) in this advertisement, with its catalog of characters, separated by dashes, consists of words and phrases found in the first edition. Later, Whitman also reused a portion of this advertisement text in a self-review titled "An English and An American Poet," which was published in American Phrenological Journal in October 1855.14 Whitman's catalog of poetic references to the first edition, beginning with "the child uttering fancies about the grass" and continuing through "the traveler from the most distant and diverse"—about thirty lines of printed text—have been incorporated, with some revisions, into the self-review. The revisions, including the correction of a typographical error, may suggest that this early advertisement functioned as a draft for the promotional self-review.

When Whitman composed these early draft advertisements as promotional material for his first edition of Leaves of Grass, he imagined a newspaper readership willing to examine lengthy texts that would introduce him and offer a preview of his poems. Ideally, through these advertisements, potential readers of Whitman would become familiar with him and his writing style in preparation for the experience of reading the first Leaves of Grass (Conrad, "The Walt Whitman Brand," 33). Whitman also intended to share with these readers his hope for the future of his poetic project, which he believed would be instrumental in the development of future generations of American poets, all of whom would one day look back to a shared common ancestor: Walt Whitman. At the same time, these advertisements offer insight into Whitman's drafting, revising, and writing practices. In these advertisements, Whitman drafted poetic lines, sometimes moving edited versions of those lines into Leaves of Grass; he even transplanted whole paragraphs into reviews of the volume that he composed himself in order to further promote his poetry. Whitman's use of part of these advertisements as units of text that he could edit, move, and rearrange, may serve as a kind of precursor to the way he would approach lines of poetry, continually editing and relocating parts of his verse. In having these advertisements printed, Whitman also ensured that they served as proofs, or what he called "slips," allowing him to experiment with the way particular lines and phrases would look once set in type and to decide upon needed corrections (Stallybrass 79).

However, these early advertisements may not be Whitman's first experiments in contextualizing or introducing his writing to prospective readers with the aim of boosting the sales of his literary works. On November 17, 1842, the New York Sun published Whitman's short story "The Reformed" and prefaced the tale with the following note: "[We are permitted to extract the following beautiful sketch from a forthcoming novel, to be published next week at the New World office, called Franklin Evans, the Inebriate. It is written by Mr. Whitman, an author whose eloquent pen is in this work devoted to a most worthy cause—the cause of Temperance.]"15 The excerpted story functioned as a preview for Whitman's forthcoming novel, which gave readers a glimpse of the novel's plot and introduced characters whose stories they might be eager to read and learn about. It also worked to familiarize readers with the transition Whitman was making from a short fiction writer to a novelist. Regardless of whether Whitman or the newspaper's editors chose the excerpted tale or made the decisions to promote Whitman's first novel by preemptively declaring him "one of the best novelists in the country," Whitman would have seen and understood this approach as a model for reaching prospective readers and buyers of his literary works. By the time Whitman had these advertisements for Leaves of Grass (1855) printed and wrote his self-reviews of the volume, some thirteen years later, he had likely given considerable thought to promotional strategies for his own work and for that of others, given his considerable experience as an editor of New York newspapers that published literature by a number of other fiction writers. It makes sense then that Whitman would have used what he learned in his fiction career and in his editorial work to position his first volume of poetry as a distinctive and exciting project by a new—yet already fully developed and successful—poet with the potential to inspire generations of readers and writers of poetry.

Whitman never dropped the practice of creating promotional and contextualizing materials for his works. He published "Leaves-Droppings," which included Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous letter to the poet in praise of the first edition of Leaves, as well as several critical responses to the 1855 edition, all of which were appended to the second (1856) edition of Leaves of Grass. The self-review of Leaves of Grass (1855) that was published in the American Phrenological Journal— which also drew on an early advertisement—was published again in "Leaves-Droppings."16 Whitman designed and drafted an advertisement for his journalistic series on diet and excercise, "Manly Health and Training" (1858), which was published in The New York Atlas on September 12, 1858. Two years later, he garnered attention for and created publicity around the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860) by putting together a 64-page promotional pamphlet, Leaves of Grass Imprints, which included American and European criticisms of the two previously published edition of Leaves, as well as the self-reviews from the American Phrenological Journal and The United States Review.17 For later editions of Leaves, Whitman would employ a wide range of advertising and framing tactics. Thus, while these early draft advertisements remained unpublished as they are presented here, the phrases, excerpts of poems, and conceptions of Leaves of Grass they included circulated in a variety of forms, and have an important place in the range of promotional materials and strategies that Whitman used throughout his literary career to attract, instruct, and sustain the future generations of lifelong readers and fans that he imagined many generations ago, in 1855.


Blalock, Stephanie. About 'The Reformed.'" The Walt Whitman Archive, 2017.

Conrad, Eric. "Introduction to Leaves of Grass Imprints. The Walt Whitman Archive, 2017.

---. "The Walt Whitman Brand: Leaves of Grass and Literary Promotion, 1855–1892.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Iowa, 2013.

Gray, Nicole ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition. The Walt Whitman Archive, 2020.

Greenspan, Ezra. Walt Whitman and the American Reader. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Grossman, Jay. "Manuprint." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 37.1 (2019), 46–65.

Stallybrass, Peter. "Walt Whitman's Slips: Manufacturing Manuscript." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 37.1 (2019), 66–106.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Walt Whitman's Poems, 'Leaves of Grass." June 29, 1855.

The New World. "New Works in Press." November 19, 1842.

The New York Atlas. "[Advertisement for Manly Health and Training]." September 12, 1858.

The New-York Daily Tribune. "America's First Distinctive Poem," Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass." April 24, 1860.

Whitman, Walt. Democratic Vistas. New York: J. S. Redfield, 1871.

---. Preface to Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: New York, 1855.

---. Leaves of Grass Imprints: American and European Criticisms on "Leaves of Grass". Boston, Massachusetts: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860.

---. "Leaves Droppings." Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn, New York: Fowler & Wells, 1856.

[Whitman, Walt]."An English and American Poet," American Phrenological Journal 22 (October 1855): 90–91.

---. "Walt Whitman and His Poems," The United States Review 5 (September 1855): 205–212.


1. For more information on Whitman's complex relationship to and uses of manuscripts and printed proofs, see Peter Stallybrass, "Walt Whitman's Slips: Manufacturing Manuscript," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 37.1 (Summer/Fall 2019): 66–106) and Jay Grossman, "Manuprint," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 37.1 (Summer/Fall 2019): 46–65. [back]

2. For the advertisement, see: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 29, 1855, 3. [back]

3. See for example, the advertisement for "America's First Distinctive Poem," Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass," New-York Daily Tribune, April 24, 1860, 1. [back]

4. See Whitman's Preface to Leaves of Grass (Brooklyn, New York, 1855), 12. [back]

5. See, for example, "New Works in Press," The New World, November 19, 1842, 337. [back]

6. In Democratic Vistas (1871), Whitman writes "[T]he process of reading is not a half-sleep, but in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself . . . must himself or herself construct indeed the poem" (76). See Democratic Vistas (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1871). [back]

7. See Walt Whitman, "Walt Whitman and His Poems," The United States Review 5 (September 1855): 205–212. [back]

8. See Nicole Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 23–24, The Walt Whitman Archive. [back]

9. See Nicole Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 23. [back]

10. Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 23. [back]

11. Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 23. [back]

12. Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 24. [back]

13. Gray, ed. Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman. Variorum Edition, 16. [back]

14. For the review, see "An English and American Poet," American Phrenological Journal 22 (October 1855): 90–91. [back]

15. For the publication history of "The Reformed," see Stephanie Blalock, "About 'The Reformed.'" [back]

16. For more on "Leaves-Droppings," see John Reitz, "'Leaves-Droppings' [1856]," J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998. [back]

17. For more on Leaves of Grass Imprints, see Eric Conrad, "Introduction to Leaves of Grass Imprints." [back]


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