On View Now: “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art”

We are pleased to announce our latest First Floor Gallery exhibition, “John Burroughs: In Letters & Art.” It runs through December 28, 2017.

Inspired by the recent conservation treatment of a portrait of Burroughs painted by Orlando Rouland, this exhibition brings an important American naturalist back to light. The painting serves as the focal point of the exhibition, tying together writer, artist, collector, and library. The exhibition showcases books, manuscripts, and other materials from the Burroughs collection. John Burroughs’ (1837-1921) essays on nature were widely read by both scholars and the reading public during his lifetime. He counted among his friends prominent men including Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, John Muir, and Thomas Edison.The Burroughs collection is part of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature at the University of Virginia.

Here are a few tastes of the exhibition in photographs:

The portrait around which the exhibition was planned. Nearby are some of the tools used in its conservation treatment.


Part of the exhibition celebrates Clifton Waller Barrett’s work building the Burroughs collection.


We look forward to seeing you in the gallery!


Glimpses of Lafcadio Hearn in Virginia

This week we are pleased to share a guest post by Rodger Steele Williamson, who is a professor at the University of Kitakyushu, Japan. Professor Williamson spent several months over the last year working in the Lafcadio Hearn collection in the Barrett Library of American Literature. Professor Williamson was a cheerful and vibrant addition to our community during his time here and we miss him (and his pastry-chef wife’s delectable and elegant treats, delivered at impressive intervals to the staff break room!).

In Japan the names Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) or Koizumi Yakumo, his name after adoption into his Japanese wife’s family register, are synonymous with ghost stories or nostalgic and exotic tales of Japanese cultural heritage. Today Hearn is renowned by the Japanese public for his advocacy, respect, and praise for what he viewed as refined and even superior cultural traits of Japanese culture and society that disappeared with the rapid modernization that characterized the Meiji Era (1868-1912). If one mentions him to locals in the two major American cities (Cincinnati and New Orleans) that he called home for a total of almost twenty years, you most likely get a blank stare.

Outside of most academic circles Hearn is relatively unknown in a country he called home for nearly twice as long as Japan. His many publications on Japan (all of which may be found at the University of Virginia) had been the cornerstone of any American studies on Japan until he was essentially blacklisted due to Japanese use of his writings as propaganda during World War II; also damaging was the fact that he took Japanese citizenship to protect his family at a time when marrying a non-citizen would have meant his wife’s loss of rights as a Japanese.

In contrast to the United States, Hearn studies thrive in Japan, where numerous books, mostly in Japanese, continue to be written about his life and works. Interestingly, there are many Japanese who do not even realize that all of Hearn’s works are available in English and are widely available online for free, making them great resources for English-language classroom readings.

A longtime resident of Japan, I was, in fact, introduced to Hearn in Virginia, by my history professor at the University of Richmond: around that time there were several new publications related to the centennial of Hearn’s arrival in Japan (1890). That led to research in the Hearn holdings in the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Liteature at U.Va. and then graduate studies in Japan. I had the great privilege of writing my dissertation at Kumamoto University, where Hearn taught at the Higher Middle School from 1891 to 1894. I am fortunate to have come full circle with an investigation of Hearn’s Irish and American roots (even though he was never an American citizen).

Clifton Waller Barrett (1901-1991), 1920 alumnus of the University of Virginia, wrote in 1983 that, “In 1939 I made a decision that brought about a radical change in my life. I decided to amass a comprehensive collection of American Literature.” Writing on the occasion of a U.Va. Library exhibition of his Hearn collection, he stated, “One writer who stood out in this group was Lafcadio Hearn. His amazing originality, combined with the unusual beauty and quality of his writing had won praise from discriminating critics; however, in the years of World War II and the decade following he was neglected.”  During his lifetime Lafcadio Hearn never mentioned any personal connections with Virginia or the University of Virginia but scholars of Hearn owe much gratitude to the pursuits of Clifton Waller Barrett in building “a representative collection of Hearn’s printed works and manuscripts most particularly.” One might say it is now the greatest depository of Hearn related materials and original manuscripts in the world.

I was glad to return recently for an in-depth study of the Hearn collection, and have reflected during that time on its strengths and its history as a collection. It is  important to realize the dedication of family and scholars responsible for some of the Barrett collection’s core Hearn materials. Hearn’s eldest son, Kazuo Hearn Koizumi, writes about his attempt to save his father’s papers in his essay “On War’s Futility,” published in the collection Re-Echo in 1957:

During World War II I was afraid that Father’s treasured manuscripts would be burned in an incendiary bomb attack. I divided his mementos into three packages, two of which I left with friends. I kept one packet. One package my friend stored in a warehouse which was burned; the other package was stolen.

Once the war was over he dug out his package and while airing out the papers “in the sunbeams, under the bright, blue, peaceful, autumn sky in which there were no more air raids, the memories of the dear old days of my childhood returned to heart.” It was his hope that the papers could be published in some form;  his book and the works of numerous others greatly benefited from this labor of love. Most of the papers and notebooks from the bundle are now easily accessed in the Barrett Reading Room in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The original manuscripts of Re-Echo are perfectly preserved there along with all the artwork that Hearn’s son painstakingly took out as clippings from the notebooks for the publication.

Hearn’s early notebook draft material for “Re-Echo.” (MSS 6101)


Draft illustration for “Re-Echo.”


Page proof for “Re-Echo.”

Another contributor to whom much is owed is P.D. Perkins, who compiled and published a comprehensive bibliography of Hearn in 1934 during the commemorations of the thirtieth anniversary of Hearn’s passing. Perkins also saved some of Hearn’s rarest–and most politically forceful–work from destruction. In a letter to Barrett, he describes how, at his own personal risk, he traveled to Japan and “spent two weeks in September 1941 three months before the start of World War II going over the files of the [Japan Chronicle] newspaper for 1894-95,” when Hearn wrote for hte paper.  If not for his actions all would have been lost: “the file of the Chronicle from which I obtained these articles was destroyed during the bombing of Kobe during the war. To the best of my knowledge there is now no file of the Chronicle in existence.” Perkins was unable to publish these pieces and they remain in the Hearn collection at Virginia as a a set of typescripts.

In these typescripts, Hearn uses his unusual position to critique foreign views of both Japanese and Western culture. Writing in 1895 to Atlantic Monthly editor Horace Scudder, Hearn states, “The difference between myself and other writers on Japan is simply that I have become practically a Japanese – in all but knowledge of language; while other writers remain foreigners, looking from outside at riddles which cannot be read except from the inside.” From this vantage point, Hearn condemned what he thought to be predominating social and racial biases among foreign residents in Japan. In a notable unpublished Chronicle article from August 1895, Hearn advocates for the rights of religious minorities:

The majority have no more right to say that the minority shall be voiceless than the minority have the right to compel the majority to accept their view. It is indeed a proof of how very little the civilization of the nineteenth century has advanced in certain respects beyond that of the Middle Age.

In an editorial of October 1885, he writes on racism that “Race hatred itself [is] based on a sort of perverted emotionalism….Certainly it is clear that it is the growth of intellectuality that we must look for [in] the elimination of race hatreds and the spread of a sane cosmopolitanism.”

Hearn believed that his opinions did not sit well with some expat readers in Japan. After leaving Kobe for Tokyo he would write in a letter, “I have long been a subject of persecution in Japan . . . The matter appears to have been managed by a humble clique of English officials, with the aid of the religious bodies.” With this in mind, we can only speculate why these particular articles were not originally chosen for publications. Some of them might have been viewed as too controversial for their anti-western sentiments. In any case a great debt is owed to P.D. Perkins for saving them and then Mr. Barrett for adding them to his collection.

A key strength of the Hearn collection is in its breadth, as may be seen in the library’s own description of the collection: “three hundred letters, some of them to Ernest Fenollosa and to Japanese friends, twenty-five groups of manuscripts, including those of Kwaidan and the description of feudal customs, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, over thirty notebooks, and innumerable periodical appearances and translations.” The essayist Guy Davenport, writing for a U.Va. exhibition on Hearn, noted the voluminous presence of “variant bindings, later editions, periodical printings, translations, [and] inscribed association copies.” It holds a true wealth of resources for a visiting Hearn scholar.


Lafcadio Hearn was virtually always photographed in profile, with his right side visible. This was due to a disfiguring scar caused by an accident in his youth. The injury was not attended to quickly enough, causing him to lose the sight of the left eye: his cornea was completely transformed into a white scar. His right, uninjured eye was so myopic that, even with lenses, he could scarcely see clearly beyond six inches from his nose. This 1898 image shows Hearn facing the camera much more directly than other photographs. (MSS 6101)




Tales from Under Grounds II: Pastimes, Play Time, Illustration, and Literature

This is the second in a series of four blog posts, spotlighting the mini-exhibitions of fall semester 2014 students from USEM 1570: Researching History.  The following is the abridged version of the students’ final projects, featured at their outreach program, Tales from Under Grounds II.


Regina Chung, First-Year Student

Regina Chung

Photograph of Regina Chung by Sanjay Suchak, November 18, 2014.

Monticello Music

Thomas Jefferson declared that music “is the favorite passion of my soul, and fortune has cast my lot in a country where it is in a state of deplorable barbarism.” Jefferson practiced the violin three hours a day and would later share his love for music with his wife, Martha, and then his daughters. He would not only spread this passion among his family, but also as a political tool that would lead to wide popularity with his lively campaign songs.

Using scrapbooks, notebooks, music programs, political campaign songs, and newsclippings, this exhibition displays the passion Jefferson held for music in his personal and work life.

This scrapbook of 18th century songs, ballads, and cantatas were collected by Thomas Jefferson and his family. There are 95 titles in this volume from Jefferson's distinct music collection.

Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbook of Sheet Music. This scrapbook of 18th century songs, ballads, and cantatas were collected by Thomas Jefferson and his family. There are 95 titles in this volume from Jefferson’s distinct music collection. (A 1723-90 .J4 no. 1. Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History)


TJ Newsclipping

Newsclipping of a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Martha “Patsy” Jefferson, n.d. After Jefferson’s wife’s death, he strongly enforced music upon his eldest daughter, Martha (“Patsy”). In this reprinted letter, he encourages her to continue to learn new music. (MSS 6696. Thomas Jefferson Foundation)


Lily Davis

Lily Davis

Photograph of Lily Davis by Sanjay Suchak, November 18, 2014.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

 Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was a 19th-century American author. He is known as a “romancer,” examining the inner nature of man, and as a “realist,” using literature to articulate the flaws in American society. Many of his stories have a common theme of probing human nature and criticizing culture. In his books, he examines and scrutinizes Puritan society, which points back to his long line of Puritan ancestors.

The photograph of Hawthorne with his signature across the bottom was taken around the time he wrote The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, pieces of literature that are still read and loved today. The Scarlet Letter, probably Hawthorne’s most well-known book, provides insight to his Puritan background. The House of Seven Gables was published shortly after The Scarlet Letter and is also set in 19th century New England. Centuries later, Hawthorne is still considered a great American author.

Title page of The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1850. The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, tells the story of Hester Prynne and her illegitimate child Pearl in Puritan society. This novel was inspired by Hawthorne’s strict Puritan background. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great grandfather, John Hathorne (1641-1717), lived in Salem, Massachusetts and was a prominent judge in the Salem witch trials. Nathaniel Hawthorne eventually added the “w” in his true family name of “Hathorne” (changing it to “Hawthorne”) to distinguish himself from his ancestors. In reading the Scarlet Letter, it is obvious that his writing points to his background.(A 1850 H39 S3. Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History)

Signed Carte de Visite of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ca. 1850s. (MSS 6249. Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature)


Mary Elder, First-Year Student

Mary Elder

Mary Elder discusses her exhibition with visitors, November 18, 2014. (Photograph by Sanjay Suchak)

Games of American Children in the Victorian Era

The Victorian Era is viewed as a time of rapid development and change, and it is easy to overlook the role of children in this era. Many of people’s ideas come from films such as A Christmas Carol, and characters such as the grandmother of American Girl’s Samantha, but much can be learned by looking at the toys and games that children enjoyed during this time.

Games and stories can often reveal the values of the time they were played, and Victorian Era games frequently had educational value, or intended to teach moral lessons. Other times, they were simply to keep children occupied quietly. Outdoor and recreational activities were also encouraged to allow children to run and play, but were sometimes limited to boys as many still held the belief that girls should be quiet and dainty.

These games can tell a story as they give us a glimpse into the lives of the younger generation in the late 19th-century. Many of the games and concepts might be familiar to people today and can show the continuity in children’s attitudes toward fun and perpetuity of childhood pleasures.

Toy Catalogue

Selchow & Righter, New York, Manufacturers and Wholesale Dealers in Games and Toys, 1894-1895.  This trade catalog for toys and games provides images, cost, and descriptions of the games. Frequently sold by dozens, costs vary greatly, but many are in the $7-$10 range. Many items, such as the church and blocks, have religious associations, while others, such as the Spelling Boards and reading cabinet, are educational. Many items, such as a ring toss, dolls, toy pianos, and air rifles, would be familiar to children today. (TS199 .A5 T62 no.16. Albert H. Small American Trade Catalogs Collection)

Ruhig Blut Game

Ruhig Blut. New York: Dr. Richter’s Publishing House, 1899. This puzzle, whose name in English is “Be Quiet,” has instructions in German, English, and several other language. It resembles what is now known by many as a Tangram, and the small shaped masonry pieces could be combined in a variety of ways to create pictures. (Lindemann 05868. The McGehee Miniature Book Collection)


Grace Kim, First-Year Student

Grace Kim

Grace Kim talks to Rare Book Cataloger Gayle Cooper about her exhibition, November 18, 2014. (Photograph by Sanjay Suchak)

John Tenniel: An Illustrator with a Punch

Originally, John Tenniel was a classic artist who created oil paintings for the Royal Academy. Dissatisfied, he left to join the illustration world. In 1850, he found a position at the British political magazine Punch, where he would work for fifty years. Citizens soon recognized his drawings, and his work at the magazine would soon allow for other illustrating opportunities. He drew for Thomas Moore’s oriental romance novel, Lalla Rookh, which was considered to contain his best illustrations. He was also the illustrator for The Arabian Nights edition, created by the engravers the Dalziel brothers. Tenniel would constantly go to the Dalziel brothers for the engraving of his drawings.

Tenniel preferred not to use real life models to help him form his illustrations. Instead, he claimed that he could draw anything through the use of memory. This may have helped him when he worked with Lewis Carroll, otherwise known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, to create Alice’s fantastical world.

In 1893, John Tenniel became knighted for his work in political cartoons and illustrations. After he retired from Punch about a decade later, he would not take on any other projects.

Illustrations from Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Illus. by John Tenniel. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1866. Most well known for his work with Lewis Carroll, Tenniel includes forty-two of his illustrations in this first American edition. Originally, Carroll wanted to draw the illustrations himself; however, a friend, Thomas Combe, suggested a professional illustrator instead. Lewis Carroll wanted no one other than John Tenniel. His work at Punch led the surreal author to become a big fan. In this particular book, the color marking comes from the original owner, Alice Huff Johnston. (PR4611 .A7 1866. Gift of Clement Dixon Johnston)

Note from Tenniel to Ponny

Note from John Tenniel to Ponny, ca. 1869. Sir John Tenniel reflects on his own reputation in a note to his friend, Ponny, stating, “You say my name is as good as a bank note – I wish you could prove it.” (MSS 6693-a. Gift of Clement Dixon Johnston)

On View Now: The Journeys of Vachel Lindsay

We are proud to announce the opening of our new First Floor exhibit, Troubadour, Vagabond, Visionary: The Journeys of Vachel Lindsay, curated by English graduate Student and Special Collections curatorial assistant Elizabeth Ott. Today on the blog, Elizabeth offers some reflections on the curatorial process in the following guest post. Thanks, Liz, and congratulations on your beautiful exhibition!

Poster design by Jeff Hill, U.Va. Library.

Poster design by Jeff Hill, U.Va. Library.

If there were a single collection in the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections library that could represent all of the reasons special collections libraries exist, I think it would have to be the Vachel Lindsay Collection. Lindsay was an American poet of the early 20th century known for his tramping excursions of hundreds of miles across many states, when he traded poetry pamphlets and performances for food and lodging. He spent much of his life walking the lines between poet, painter, preacher, and philosopher. He’s exactly the kind of writer whose value to the history of literature is most easily lost in the ascetic pages of a Norton Anthology, where his booming vaudevillian voice, syncopated jazz rhythms, and elaborate tongue-in-cheek illustrations are reduced down to plain black ink on a white page.

Exhibition curator Elizabeth Ott and her supervisor, curator Molly Schwartzburg, installing Lindsay's bibles in the exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

Exhibition curator Elizabeth Ott and her supervisor, curator Molly Schwartzburg, installing Lindsay’s Bibles in the exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

To understand Vachel Lindsay, you need to see all his stuff. To understand Vachel Lindsay, you need to visit Special Collections. This is because the manuscripts, printed books, and other materials in the stacks of the Small Library tell a vibrant story, one that casts Lindsay in a kaleidoscopic light of colors and shades, speaking of a rich artistic career. Enterprising, energetic, and prolific, Lindsay traveled America as a self-styled troubadour, distributed art and ideas with an earnest faith in the twin powers of Beauty and Art, and made a name for himself reclaiming poetry as the province of performance. The Vachel Lindsay Collection is wildly eclectic, encompassing everything from oil paintings and cherished slippers to folksy illustrated pamphlets and the blocks used to print them.

One of Vachel Lindsay's Bibles, inscribed with his elegant script, ready to be installed in the exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

One of Vachel Lindsay’s Bibles, inscribed with his elegant script, ready to be installed in the exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

Because of Lindsay’s broad interests and the great scope of the collection, deciding what aspect of Lindsay’s career to exhibit was no small task. I wanted to showcase the range of his work while at the same time giving a sense of just how much he dovetailed with the intellectual and artistic concerns of his day. To me, Lindsay seemed so much a part of the American landscape—an America still in the process of building an identity. Lindsay, like many American poets, looked back to create something unique and new, breaking from tradition by invoking an almost transcendental link to a mythic and stylized past.

The exhibition installation process continues. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

The exhibition installation process continues. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

The decision to focus the exhibition on Lindsay’s journeys, both literal and figurative, grew out of two maps that now hang in the first case of the exhibition. Both maps are fairly ordinary, save that Lindsay has embellished both, labeling them with paint and pen. The first records his tramping journeys between 1904 and 1916. The second divides the country into regions of Lindsay’s devising, with his characteristic penchant for the symbolic over the literal. I wanted to tell the story of these two maps, of Lindsay’s actual treks across the United States, but also of his visions of the journey America, as a country, was to undertake.

Elizabeth supervises Molly as she levels one of Lindsay's maps. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

Elizabeth supervises Molly as she levels one of Lindsay’s maps. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

The resulting exhibition thus tells two stories. The first is the story of what Vachel Lindsay means to America—how his tramping journeys presaged the hobo culture of the 1920s and 30s and influenced generations of poets who drew inspiration from folk culture. The second is the story of what America meant to Vachel Lindsay, his mythopoeic universe with Springfield, Illinois (his hometown) at the center. Though this exhibition barely scratches the surface of his fascinating life and work, it samples a great range of the materials that survive in the Vachel Lindsay Collection, testifying to the life and works of this now obscure but enduringly influential American poet.

Elizabeth puts the finishing touches on her exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

Elizabeth puts the finishing touches on her exhibition. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

This Just In: Scarlet Letters from the Backlog

Every Special Collections library has a number of mysterious boxes that for some reason or another have never been dealt with–gifts with mysterious provenances, duplicate copies, a collection that someone was working on but for some reason never finished, and so on. U.Va. is no exception, though we do pride ourselves on how small that backlog is, and how well-described our cataloged materials are.

Soon after starting this job, I was tasked, with my co-hire David Whitesell, to dig into the backlog. For many months now, we have each enjoyed tackling a box or two on a quiet afternoon at the reference desk, or whenever the temptation is too strong and more pressing work is set aside.

Much of the pleasure of curatorial work comes from the element of surprise–unexpected gifts, unexpected acquisitions opportunities, unexpected discoveries in the stacks, unexpected researcher projects, and so on. So I was thrilled to find one day recently, mixed with various unremarkable volumes in a box, two early copies of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I was even more thrilled to discover that neither came near to duplicating the numerous early copies already in our collection.

Existing holdings in early printings of the novel accompanied by the two books that will soon join them on our shelves.The dull brown covers were, in their day, a mark of great prestige, since they were the signature of the highly regarded publishers  Ticknor and Fields.

Seven existing Scarlet Letters accompanied by two volumes that will soon join them on our shelves. The dull brown covers were a mark of literary prestige, since they were the signature of the highly regarded Boston publishing house of Ticknor, Reed and Fields.

The Second Edition Advertisements

The Scarlet Letter was a huge success from the moment it was published. Released on March 16, 1850, the first edition of 2,500 copies sold quickly. On April 22nd, the second edition was released. It also comprised 2,500 copies, and is easily identified because it includes an additional preface by Hawthorne, in which he responds to criticisms of the famous essay that prefaces the novel, “The Custom House.”

Our three cataloged copies of the second edition vary dramatically in condition and paratexts. All but one have bookplates, and all three have advertisements. The publishers added to each copy a multi-page advertising insert variously titled “New Books and New Editions” or “A List of Books Recently Published,” all beginning with the publisher’s Longfellow list.  The three copies have inserts dated March 1850 and May 1850 (in two copies).

Notably, the newly unearthed copy has an advertising insert dated October 1849, which is the earliest insert of any copy of this novel in our collection. Presumably, the insert was lifted from a stack of old leftovers, since the book could not have been bound before the spring of 1850.

The images below show a variety of advertisements from the first three editions of the novel, all published in 1850.


Detail of the advertisement in one of our copies of the first edition. (PS 1868 .A1 1850. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Catlin. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)


Detail of the advertisement in the soon-to-be-added copy of the second edition. (Uncataloged. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)


Detail of the advertisement in one of our copies of the third edition, the first to be printed from stereotyped plates, and which appeared in September, 1850 (A 1850 .H39 S3a. Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg)

An 1854 impression

The other volume found in the backlog is unquestionably unique to our collection, as the only standalone copy of the novel we own with an imprint date of 1854 (a collected works edition we hold is also dated that year). It is printed from the stereotyped plates produced in late 1850 for the third edition. The only 1854 printing, it totaled 500 copies, and brought the total number of copies of the novel’s American standalone editions alone to 10,300.

So, Hawthorne fans and bibliographers, we encourage you to come by in a few weeks when these new additions have been cataloged, snugly housed, and added to the shelves alongside their brethren!


Our new second edition, on the left, and third edition, 1854 printing, on the right. The yellowed slips in the book show how long these have waited for their moment in the sun (and in Virgo, our online catalog). The origins of these volumes are lost to the sands of time.




Walter Whitman, before Leaves of Grass

This week, we feature a guest post from Special Collections staff member George Riser:

When Walt Whitman released his ‘idiomatic book of my land’ in 1855, he was thirty-six years old. Leaves of Grass, then twelve untitled poems in free style verse, was fully the work of an author who financed the printing, assisted in the typesetting, designed the extravagant cover, and acted as publisher and salesman. Though praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a private letter–“I greet you at the beginning of a great career”–the poems initially bewildered or shocked most early readers, not only in their lack of conventional rhyme and meter, but also in their use “of language and subject matter so coarse and crude as to be not fit for a mixed audience” (Charles Eliot Norton, Putnam’s Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Science, and Arts, 6 September 1855).  Not all of the critics were so kind. Rufus Griswold in his review in Criterion in November 1855 wrote, “as to the volume itself…it is impossible to imagine how any man’s fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love” (Oddly, one of our Library’s copies of the first printings is a presentation to Rufus Griswold). Charles A. Dana, writing in the July issue of The New York Daily Tribune, notes “the poems certainly original in their external form, have been shaped on no pre-existent model out of the author’s own brain. Indeed, his independence often becomes coarse and defiant. His language is too frequently reckless and indecent.”

Can a work of art as original as Leaves of Grass spring out of “no pre-existent model,” simply from “the author’s own brain?” Our library holds twenty-five items that pre-date the first printing of Leaves of Grass in 1855. A look at this publication history can give, in many cases, insight into the genesis of the wild, innovative poems that formed the then revolutionary book of poems.

Whitman’s first published piece, “Death in the School-Room” appeared in The Democratic Review in August 1841. Written when Whitman was 21, the story drew on his experience as an itinerant teacher and was an indictment of what he called “the old-fashioned school-masters with their reliance on discipline and corporal punishment.”

Front cover of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, (December 1841), which featured Whitman’s story “Bervance: or, Father and Son.” (PS3222 .B47 1841, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)

An early poem, “Death of the Nature-Lover,” appearing in Brother Jonathan in March 1843, and attributed to Walter Whitman, uses a strict meter and rhyme, though it employs Whitmanesque themes:

Not in a gorgeous hall of pride

Where tears fall thick, and loved ones sigh,

Wished he, when the dark hour approached

To drop his veil of flesh and die.

The title page from Brother Jonathan, (New York, N.Y.: March 11, 1843) featuring Whitman’s poem, “Death of the Nature-Lover.” (PS3222 .D45 1843, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)

Whitman worked for many of the serial publications that printed his early work, usually as compositor, pressman, or editor, including a stint with John Neal, publisher of Brother Jonathan. Neal, a popular novelist of the time, wrote in his 1823 novel, Randolph, “I do, in my heart, believe we shall live to see poetry done away with–the poetry of form I mean–of rhyme, measure, and cadence.…poetry will disencumber itself of rhyme and measure and talk in prose–with a sort of rhythm, I admit,” lines that Whitman seemingly took to heart.

Whitman’s “Death of the Nature-Lover” as it appeared in Brother Jonathan, above. (Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson contributed to many of the same publications as Whitman, and called upon American writers to “strike an original relation with the universe.’”Whitman took heed, writing, ‘”I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil.”

Whitman also worked for and contributed to The Broadway Journal at the time it was owned and edited by Edgar Allan Poe. The 29 November 1845 issue features a piece by Whitman, “Art-singing and Heart-singing,” that gives credit to a popular, though low, American singing style. In the November 20 issue of the same year, Poe responding to criticisms of a recent poetry reading, takes issue with a number of critics (to one: “we advise her to get drunk, too, and as soon as possible—for when sober she is a disgrace to her sex—on account of being so awfully stupid”), and ends with “a note to correspondents – ‘Many thanks to W.W.’”  Whitman may have learned a lesson in withstanding critical condemnation from Poe, who spent his editorial career inviting invective.

The opening lines of Whitman’s essay, “Art-Singing and Heart-Singing,” printed in The Broadway Journal, (November 29, 1845). This issue was edited by Edgar Allen Poe. (PS3222 .A7 1845, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photo  by Molly Schwartzburg.)

Poe thanks correspondents for their assistance in his “Editorial Miscellany,’ for The Broadway Journal issue, (November 22, 1845), including ‘W.W.,’ purportedly Walt Whitman. (PS3222 .A7 1845, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)


Poe and Whitman were linked more than once in professional publications. In this image, we see editor Thomas Dunn English thank collaborators, including Edgar A. Poe and Walter Whitman, in the opening pages of the March 1845 issue of The Aristidean. (A 1846 .A75, Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)

In 1942, Whitman published his only full length novel, Franklin Evans or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times in Park Benjamin’s paper, The New World. Franklin Evans was a novel of temperance that was an embarrassment to Whitman in his old age, but reflected an early concern for alcoholism, which may have affected his father and his brother-in-law. It is also a theme that appears in later editions of Leaves of Grass, though lacking the sensationalist style popular at that time.

The front cover of The New World (New York, N.Y.: 1842) featuring the first printing of Walt Whitman’s Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate. A Tale of the Times. (PS3222 .F7 1842, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Photo by Molly Schwartzburg.)

These are but a few examples of Whitman’s early writings that can give insight into the origins of the remarkable book of poems, Leaves of Grass.

In closing, we include a passage from that volume’s first edition, and one last contemporary commentary:

Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest…

–Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman is a printer by trade, whose punctuation is as loose as his morality, and who no more minds his ems than his p’s and q’s.

–Anonymous from The Washington Daily National Intelligencer, (18 February 1856)