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About the Exhibit

While working as a reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Walt Whitman (1819-1892) began to write poetry. In order to publish his poetry, he spent many hours in the Rome Printing Shop in Brooklyn, New York, hand setting some of the type so that Andrew Rome could strike off 800 copies of a slim volume of poetry. It contained twelve untitled poems and a hastily prepared preface. The author’s name did not appear on the cover, nor on the title page, although the frontispiece was a striking image of the poet. The volume titled, Leaves of Grass, was published on 4 July 1855. It was identified with a copyright notice and the line “Walt Whitman, an American”.

Throughout his career as a poet, Whitman continued to revise, expand, rearrange and title his poems in several subsequent editions of his work, all appearing under the same title: Leaves of Grass. The modest first edition of 1855 was overshadowed by the later editions and was largely forgotten. One of these subsequent editions, the one that appeared in 1891, was considered by Whitman to be a definitive one, as expressed in this opening statement:

As there are now several editions of L. of G., different texts and dates, I wish to say that I prefer and recommend this present one, complete, for future printing, if there should be any; a copy and fac-similie, indeed, of the text of these 426 pages. The subsequent adjusting interval which is so important to form’d and launch’d work, books especially, has pass’d; and waiting till fully after that, I have given (pages 656-672) my concluding words.      W.W.

Intervening editions had been published in 1856, 1860, 1865, 1867, 1871, 1873, 1874, 1876, 1881, and 1888. The 1891-92 edition included six of the original twelve poems and 376 additional poems that had been organized into these groupings: Inscriptions; Children of Adam; Calamus; Birds of Passage; Sea-Drift; By the Roadside; Drum-Taps; Memories of President Lincoln; Autumn Rivulets; Whispers of Heavenly Death; From Noon to Starry Night; Songs of Parting; First Annex: Sands of Seventy; Second Annex”.

The City College Library Special Collections has two limited printing issues of the 1891 edition of Leaves of Grass, illustrated by John Steuart Currey (1897-1946). These volumes and four framed images of Whitman were included in this display on view in the Archives and Special Collections reading room in the fall of 2005, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. This modest display was inspired by an exhibition mounted by the New York Public Library in 2005, “I am With You”: Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855-2005).

Curator for this exhibit :: Prof. Sydney Van Nort, Archivist, Archives and Special Collections Library.

Photo 5 Photo 3 Poem Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 7 Book Book Photo 8
Photo Detail

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