Leaves of Grass


Walt Whitman (1819–92) is generally considered to be the most important American poet of the 19th century. He published the first edition of his major work, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. For the remainder of his life, Whitman produced further editions of the book, ending with the ninth, or "deathbed," edition in 1891–92. What began as a slim book of 12 poems was by the end of his life a thick compendium of almost 400. Whitman regarded each version as its own distinct book and continuously altered the contents. He added new poems, named or renamed old ones, and, until 1881, repeatedly regrouped them. He developed the typography, appended annexes, reworded lines, and changed punctuation, making each edition unique. Shown here is the rare first edition, which Whitman printed without the author's name on the title page. Publication of the book was heralded by anonymous reviews printed in New York papers, which clearly were written by Whitman himself. They accurately described the break-through nature of his "transcendent and new" work. "An American bard at last!" trumpeted one self-review. Whitman also received a generous boost of publicity from the best-selling writer Fanny Fern, who befriended the newly published poet and championed Leaves as daring and fresh in her popular column in the New York Ledger on May 10, 1856.

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Rome Brothers, Brooklyn, New York


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95 pages, 1 leaf of plates : 1 portrait ; 29 centimeters

Last updated: March 7, 2014