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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was born May 31, 1819 on Long Island, one of seven children, and died March 26, 1892 in Camden, New Jersey. His family moved to Brooklyn when he was four years old. When he was thirteen he began work at the liberal Long Island Patriot, the beginning of his long involvement with journalism that included founding and running his own paper. Later in life, he worked as a teacher, a printer, a government clerk, and as a volunteer nurse to sick and wounded Civil War soldiers.

  • 1842 Published a commissioned temperance novel in the November 23 supplement to the New World, entitled Franklin Evans; or the Inebriate . NYPL is one of only four institutions known to have the supplement.
  • 1855 First edition of Leaves of Grass published to mixed reviews.
  • 1855 Father died. Whitman assumed responsibility for his family.
  • 1856 Second edition of Leaves of Grass brought out.
  • 1860 Third edition of Leaves of Grass was published.
  • 1862-1864 Whitman traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in search of his brother George who had been listed among the soldiers wounded there. During the five days of his successful search for his brother, he became so overwhelmed by the suffering he saw that he remained, visiting and caring for sick and wounded soldiers as an unofficial nurse in Washington, D.C. and on the front. Supporting himself with a job at the Army Paymaster's Office, Whitman nursed wounded soldiers after work. In addition to volunteering his time, he collected money to augment his personal contributions for the purchase of fruit, biscuits, tobacco, milk, paper and stamps for the soldiers. Finally in 1865, he was forced to give up nursing because of his own ill health.
  • 1865 Early in the year, Whitman's friend William O'Connor helped him obtain a position at the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior. When, on June 30, 1865, the Secretary of the Interior James Harlan discovered a heavily revised edition of Leaves of Grass in his desk, he fired Whitman. (This copy, known as the "Blue Book" because of the color of its cover, can be found in the Oscar Lion Collection, Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library.) A former Methodist minister, Harlan found a number of passages indecent and felt they advocated free love. William O'Connor came to Whitman's defense and managed to have him transferred to the Attorney General's office. O'Connor then wrote The Good Gray Poet, a pamphlet that defended Whitman against Harlan's accusations of indecency. He wished to speed Whitman's acceptance by the general public, which in many ways he did. The sobriquet “Good Gray Poet” stuck.
  • 1865 Drum-Taps was published in the summer.
  • 1865 In October Drum-Taps was republished as Sequel to Drum-Taps, bound with an additional twenty-four pages which included poems in memory of Abraham Lincoln who had been assassinated on April 14, 1865.
  • 1867 Whitman published Democracy and a fourth edition of Leaves of Grass .
  • 1868 English edition of Leaves of Grass is published, edited by William Rossetti and entitled Poems of Walt Whitman . It received warm reviews, including Algernon Charles Swinburne's praise which likened Whitman to William Blake. Alfred, Lord Tennyson began to correspond with him, and Anne Gilchrist, the widow of the Blake biographer Alexander Gilchrist, proposed marriage.
  • 1871 Fifth edition of Leaves of Grass published. Democratic Vistas and Passage to India, two new works, also published.
  • 1873 Whitman suffered a serious stroke that resulted in lameness and general weakness. Only a few months earlier his mother had died, an experience he described as the "great dark cloud of my life." Unable to work after the stroke, he went to Camden, N.J., to live with his brother and sister-in-law while he recovered (a process which took years), moving into the room in which his mother had died. Magnifying the period's bleakness for him was a dispute with William O'Connor that caused their estrangement.
  • 1875 Now able to move around more easily, he spent long periods visiting nearby friends.
  • 1875 On November 17, Whitman attended the reburial of Edgar Allan Poe and the dedication of a Poe monument in Baltimore. He was the only literary figure to attend.
  • 1876 Democratic Vistas was reissued with additional poems under the title Two Rivulets .
  • 1879 Whitman's health improved enough to allow him to lecture and travel more broadly.
  • 1881 Sixth edition of Leaves of Grass published in November in Boston, MA.
  • 1882 Leaves of Grass is banned in April. When Whitman refused to make required changes, Osgood & Company halted publication. By June, Whitman had entered into an agreement with another company, Rees Welsh & Company in Philadelphia, and the book was released in 1882. Because of the scandal, the reissue sold well.
  • 1882 Rees Welsh also published Specimen Days and Collect .
  • 1883 Dr. Bucke, a Canadian physician and alienist, as well as a friend of Whitman's, published the first biography of Whitman. (Whitman's in-depth revision of Bucke's Analysis of Poems is now in the Berg Collection.)
  • 1884 Whitman bought his own house at 328 Mickle Street in Camden, N.J.
  • 1886 He began work on November Boughs, another work of prose and poetry, and continued to write short pieces for magazines and newspapers to supplement his income.
  • 1888 Suffered another stroke in June, this one severe. Because of paralysis he now required a male nurse and a wheelchair for mobility. With Horace Traubel's assistance, however, he was able to complete and publish November Boughs as well as the Complete Poetry & Prose of Walt Whitman, 1855-1888 .
  • 1889 A large celebration was given in honor of the poet's seventieth birthday. Whitman worked hard throughout his life to attain the literary attention he felt he deserved. By the end of his life he was respected in both the United States and England and his work had been translated into a number of languages. Visitors to his house at Mickle Street included Oscar Wilde, Edmond Gosse, Horace Howard Furness and Joseph Penell. Financial support in his later years came from a varied group that included Edwin Booth, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • 1891 Completed and published Good-Bye My Fancy and the final version of Leaves of Grass .
  • 1892 Walt Whitman died on March 26.


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