Walt Whitman papers, 1841-1940, bulk 1841-1891
Using These Materials
- Collection is open for research.
- Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892
- Collection includes correspondence separated into two subseries: "Letters To or About Walt Whitman," and "Letters From or By Walt Whitman." Most of Whitman's letters in the collection were written between 1880 and 1891. Letters include those written to and from friends, family members, editors, publishers, and soldiers Whitman met in and around Washington, D. C. during the Civil War. The Clippings Series includes both large groups of clippings collected and annotated by Whitman, and clippings Whitman took from complete or nearly complete articles. Also included are manuscripts and printed materials about or relating to Whitman, most of which date during Whitman's lifetime. There are portraits, etchings, engravings, and sketches both of Whitman and of his brother, George, and sister, Hannah. A Writings Series contains manuscript and printed versions of poetry and prose dating from Whitman's career in journalism up to the end of his life. It is divided into four subseries: Manuscript Poems (1855-1882 and undated); Manuscript Prose (1852-1891 and undated); Proofs (1874-1891 and undated); and Periodicals Containing Contributions by Whitman (1841-1891).
- 28 Linear Feet
- Collection ID:
- Scope and Content:
The Walt Whitman papers incorporates material spanning the dates 1841-1940, with the bulk of the material dating from 1841-1891. The virtual reorganization of the collection, based upon that devised by Ellen F. Frey in A Bibliography of Walt Whitman (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1945), divides it into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Clippings, Material About or Relating to Whitman, Portraits, and Miscellany.
Items marked as unavailable are currently missing.
Correspondence is separated into two subseries: "Letters To or About Walt Whitman," and "Letters From or By Walt Whitman." Most of Whitman's letters in the collection were written between 1880 and 1891. The Clippings Series lists both large groups of clippings collected and annotated by Whitman, and clippings Whitman took from complete or nearly complete articles. Whenever possible, these have been dated according to the periodical in which the articles originally appeared. Material About or Relating to Whitman is comprised of subseries that catalog manuscript versions of Richard Maurice Bucke's biography of Whitman, as well as other manuscript material written by Whitman or recorded by his friends. The Portraits Series includes formal photographic and painted portraits, etchings, engravings, and sketches, both of Whitman and of his brother, George, and sister, Hannah. The Miscellany consists of ephemera related to Whitman's life and career as a poet. Two scrapbooks, book wrappers for the first edition of Leaves of Grass, and documents relating to the Whitman fund are listed among this series' eclectic contents.
By far the largest series in the collection, the Writings Series contains manuscript and printed versions of poetry and prose dating from Whitman's career in journalism to the end of his life. It is divided into four subseries: Manuscript Poems (1855-1882 and undated); Manuscript Prose (1852-1891 and undated); Proofs (1874-1891 and undated); and Periodicals Containing Contributions by Whitman (1841-1891). The first subseries, "Manuscript Poems," is further subdivided into categories intended to define three separate levels of poetic composition: manuscript versions of poems that appear in at least one edition of Leaves of Grass, manuscript versions of poems not published in Leaves of Grass, and verse fragments and outlines. The researcher is advised to consult the NYU Collected Writings of Walt Whitman, particularly Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley, eds., Leaves of Grass: A Comprehensive Reader's Edition (New York: NYUP, 1965), pp. 585-706, for publication of previously uncollected material. Although older, Oscar Lovell Triggs, ed., Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, vol. 3 of 10 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902) and Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, eds., Faint Clews and Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1949) are also helpful, the former particularly when used alongside Frey's Bibliography.
The Manuscript Prose Subseries in the Writings Series is further divided into seven categories. The first three are comprised of manuscript versions of stories, prefaces, and essays and lectures, respectively. Four less distinct subheadings follow. "Notes on Literature" represents an almost exact transliteration of Frey's category of the same name, however it should be noted that this category does not, at the time of writing, list all of Trent's holdings in Whitman's literary-critical manuscripts. Some literary criticism is contained in "Autobiographical Manuscripts" and "Whitman on His Own Writings," along with more purely impressionistic self-reflection. "Miscellany" should also be consulted, as it brings together in an unsystematic way Whitman's notes on travel, reading, and education as well as a scattering of notes on poetry and different forms of literary production.
The last two subseries of the Writings Series bring together various published versions of Whitman's writing. Annotated proofs of his poetry and prose are identified in the finding aid, and cross-references are included between the Proofs Subseries and the Periodicals Containing Contributions by Whitman Subseries in instances where the collection lists both a proof and a published version of a poem or article among its headings. The Periodicals Containing Contributions by Whitman Subseries provides a survey of his writing during his lifetime.
Many published works by and about Walt Whitman and housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library have been cataloged individually. These can be found by searching the Duke online catalog.
- Biographical / Historical:
Date Event 1819 May 31 Born Walter Whitman in West Hills, Huntington Township, N.Y. to Walter and Louisa (VanVelsor) Whitman 1823 Whitman family moved to Brooklyn 1825-1830 Attended Brooklyn public schools 1830-1831 Worked as office boy for lawyer and doctor 1831-1832 Printing apprentice for Long Island Patriot 1832-1835 Worked as compositor for Long Island Star 1836-1838 Taught school on Long Island 1838-1839 Worked on two newspapers, Long Islander and Long Island Democrat 1840 Campaigned for Martin Van Buren 1840-1841 Taught school on Long Island 1841 Moved to New York City; worked as compositor for The New World 1842-1845 Worked for and contributed to various newspapers in New York City 1845-1846 Returned to Brooklyn and worked for Evening Star 1846-1848 Edited Brooklyn's Daily Eagle 1848 Left Daily Eagle, went to New Orleans to edit Daily Crescent. Resigned and returned to Brooklyn. 1848-1849 Founded and edited Weekly Freeman, a "free-soil" newspaper 1849-1854 Operated printing office, bookstore, and house building business and did freelance journalism 1855 Copyrighted first edition of Leaves of Grass 1855-1856 Wrote for Life Illustrated; published second edition of Leaves of Grass 1857-1860 Edited Brooklyn Daily Times 1860 Published third edition of Leaves of Grass 1861-1862 Wrote freelance journalism; visited soldiers in New York Hospital; visited wounded brother in Fredericksburg 1863-1864 Moved to Washington, D.C.; worked as clerk in Army Paymaster's Office; visited military hospitals; returned to Brooklyn for 6 months in 1864 1865 Returned to Washington, D.C. and worked as clerk in Indian Bureau of Department of the Interior; began and suspended printing of Drum-Taps; discharged by Secretary James Harlan for writing "obscene" poetry; transferred to clerkship in Attorney General's Office; again published Drum-Taps and Sequel; began relationship with Peter Doyle 1866 William D. O'Connor published The Good Gray Poet, a defense co-written by Whitman in response to Whitman's firing by Harlan 1867 4th edition of Leaves of Grass published 1868 Poems of Walt Whitman published in London 1870 5th edition of Leaves of Grass published 1873 Suffered paralytic stroke; mother died on May 23rd; moved in with brother George in Camden, N.J. 1874 Discharged from his position in Washington, D.C. 1876 Published Centennial edition of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets, and Memoranda During the War; befriended Harry Stafford 1879 Gave first Lincoln lecture in New York 1882 Publicity concerning the suppression of Leaves of Grass in Boston resulted in unprecedented sales 1888 Suffered a second paralytic stroke; made will naming Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas Harned, and Horace Traubel literary executors 1889 70th birthday commemorated in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman 1892 Died March 26th; buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, N.J.
- Acquisition Information:
- The bulk of Duke University's Walt Whitman holdings were acquired through a series of substantial donations made by Dr. and Mrs. Josiah C. Trent. Much of the Trent material was originally gathered by Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman's friend and literary executor, who sold manuscript versions of his biography of Whitman, along with his collection of unpublished letters and Whitman's personal papers and books, in London in 1935. The next year, Jacob Schwartz offered for sale in New York a large portion of the Whitman holdings that had belonged to Bucke, and many of the items listed in the catalogue of this sale were a part of the original donation made to Duke by Dr. and Mrs. Trent in 1942. The Trent family made several important additions to their initial bequest in the years following the establishment of the collection, but Duke University does not expect its Whitman manuscript holdings to expand at any time in the near future.
- Processing information:
Processed by Melissa Delbridge and Daniel Breen. Completed October 29, 2003. Much of the collection was rehoused by Christian Ferney, May 2009.
Finding aid encoded by Michael Shumate and Elizabeth Arnold.
Finding aid revised by Christine Kirkham and Paolo Mangiafico, December 2006. Encoding updated by Jill Katte, December 2007. Updates made to finding aid by Christian Ferney, May 2009.
Collection reprocessed and finding aid revised by Allie Poffinberger in 2016.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
American literature -- 19th century
Poets, American -- 19th century
Frey, Ellen Frances. Catalogue of the Whitman collection in the Duke University Library, 1945: t.p. (Ellen Frances Frey)
Bucke, Richard Maurice, 1837-1902
Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892
Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892. Leaves of grass
Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892—Manuscripts
Using These Materials
Collection is open for research.
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- PREFERRED CITATION:
[Identification of item], Walt Whitman Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.