Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman. The Library of Congress Picture Collection


Walt Whitman (born Walter Whitman) (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist born on Long Island, New York. His most famous works are the collections of poetry Leaves of Grass and Drum-Taps.

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Walt Whitman Quotes

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends.

The fruition of beauty is no chance of hit or miss... it is inevitable as life.

What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the words I have read in my life.

Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.

I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred.

Nothing endures but personal qualities.

The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.

The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.

Simplicity is the glory of expression.

The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one single individual.

To have great poets there must be great audiences too.

Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.

In the confusion we stay with each other, happy to be together, speaking without uttering a single word.

Now understand me well. Out of every fruition of success, no matter what, comes forth something to make a new effort necessary.


Walt Whitman Biography

Chronology

1819
31 May, Walter Whitman born at West Hills, Huntington Township, New York, the second child of Walter Whitman, house builder, and Louisa Van Velsor, both descendants of early settlers on Long Island. Seven other Whitman children survive infancy: Jesse (1818–1870), Mary Elizabeth (1821–1899), Hannah Louisa (1823–1908); Andrew Jackson (1827–1863); George Washington (1829–1901); Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890); and Edward (1835—1892).

1823
27 May, Whitman family moves to Brooklyn expecting housing boom.

1825
4 July, Marquis de Lafayette visits Brooklyn and, according to Whitman's recollection, embraces him.

1825–1830 Attends public school in Brooklyn. Family frequently relocates within city.

1830–1831
Quits school; works as an office boy for lawyer, doctor.

1831–1832
Learns printing trade as apprentice for Long Island Patriot.

1832–1835
Summer 1832, works at Worthington's printing house. Fall 1832 to May 1835, works as compositor on Long Island Star. 1833, Whitman family moves back to Long Island.

1835–1836
Works as a printer in New York but is unemployed after a great fire in printing district, 12 August 1836.

1836–1838
Teaches school on Long Island at East Norwich, Hempstead, Babylon, Long Swamp, and Smithtown.

1838–1839
Edits weekly newspaper, Long Islander, Huntington; works on Long Island Democrat, Jamaica.

1840–1841
Fall 1840, campaigns for Martin Van Buren; teaches school on Long Island at Trimming Square, Woodbury, Dix Hills, and Whitestone.

1841
May, moves to New York City; works as a compositor for The New World. July, addresses Democratic Party rally in City Hall Park. August, publishes "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" in Democratic Review.

1842
November, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate published as an extra to The New World.

1842–1845
Works briefly for the Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, Democrat and Mirror and contributes to other papers in New York City.

1845–1846
August 1845, returns to Brooklyn; works for Brooklyn Evening Star until March 1846.

1846–1848
March 1846 to January 1848, edits Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Attends opera regularly.

1848
January, quits (or is fired) from Daily Eagle. February, goes to New Orleans with brother Jeff to edit Daily Crescent. May, resigns position and returns to Brooklyn via Mississippi and Great Lakes.

1848–1849
9 September 1948, first issue of Brooklyn Weekly Freeman, a "free-soil" newspaper founded and edited by Whitman; office burns after first issue. Spring Freeman becomes a daily; Whitman edits until 11 September 1849. July, examined by phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler.

1849–1854
Operates job-printing office, bookstore, and house building business; does freelance journalism. 31 March 1851, addresses Brooklyn Art Union; writes "Pictures" in 1853.

1855
15 May, takes out copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, containing twelve poems and a preface. Leaves is printed by the Rome brothers in Brooklyn during first week of July. Father dies on 11 July. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes to poet on 21 July: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career."

1855–1856
November 1855 to August 1856 writes for Life Illustrated; writes a political tract, "The Eighteenth Presidency!" Between August and September 1856, phrenologists Fowler and Wells publish second edition of Leaves of Grass, containing thirty-two poems, Emerson's letter, and an open letter by Whitman in reply to Emerson. November, visited by Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott in Brooklyn.

1857–1860
Spring 1857 to Summer 1859, edits Brooklyn Daily Times; unemployed during the winter of 1859–1860; frequents Pfaff's restaurant, a center of New York's literary bohemia.

1860
March, goes to Boston to oversee third edition of Leaves of Grass, published by Thayer and Eldridge. Urged by Emerson to "expurgate" the "Children of Adam" poems.

1861–1862
12 April 1861, the Civil War begins; Whitman's brother George enlists. Writes freelance journalism; visits the sick and injured at New York Hospital. December 1862, goes to Virginia where he learns that George has been wounded at Fredricksburg; remains in camp two weeks.

1863–1864
Moves to Washington, D.C.; visits military hospitals and supports himself as part-time clerk in Army Paymaster's Office. Becomes friends with William D. O'Connor and John Burroughs. December 1863, brother Andrew dies of tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism. June 1864, returns to Brooklyn for six months on sick leave. 5 December 1864, has brother Jesse committed to King's County Lunatic Asylum.

1865
Returns to Washington after 24 January appointment to clerkship in Indian Bureau of Department of the Interior. 4 March, attends Lincoln's second inauguration. 14 April, Lincoln assassinated. May, begins printing Drum-Taps (New York), but suspends printing to add a sequel commemorating Lincoln. 30 June, discharged from position by Secretary James Harlan, supposedly because of authorship of obscene poetry. Is transferred to a clerkship in Attorney General's Office. Summer, writes "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain!" October, publishes Drum-Taps and Sequel (Washington). Begins relationship with Peter Doyle, an eighteen-year old Confederate horse-car conductor, in Washington.

1866
O'Connor publishes The Good Gray Poet (New York: Bunce and Huntington), a defense co-written by Whitman, in response to the poet's firing by Harlan.

1867
John Burroughs supports Whitman in Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (New York: American News Company). 6 July, William Michael Rossetti publishes an appreciation of "Walt Whitman's Poems" in the London Chronicle. Fourth edition of Leaves of Grass printed in New York; publishes "Democracy," first part of Democratic Vistas, in December in the Galaxy.

1868
Poems of Walt Whitman, selected and edited by Rossetti, published in London (John Camden Hotten, publisher). "Personalism," second part of Democratic Vistas, published in the May Galaxy.

1869
Develops substantial following in England; Anne Gilchrist and, about this time, Edward Carpenter read Rossetti edition and are attracted to Whitman.

1870
Suffers depression; prints fifth edition of Leaves of Grass, and Democratic Vistas and Passage to India, all in Washington D.C., and dated 1871. May, Anne Gilchrist publishes "An Englishwoman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" in The Radical, Boston.

1871
Algernon Charles Swinburne greets Whitman in Songs Before Sunrise; Alfred, Lord Tennyson and John Addington Symonds send affectionate letters. Anne Gilchrist writes a marriage proposal; Whitman politely declines (3 November). Rudolph Schmidt translates Democratic Vistas into Danish. 7 September, Whitman reads After All, Not to Create Only at American Institute Exhibition in New York City (published in Boston by Roberts Brothers).

1872
1 June, Thιrθse Bentzon (Mme. Blanc) publishes critical article on Whitman in Revue des Deux Mondes. 26 June, reads "As A Strong Bird on Pinions Free" at Dartmouth College commencement (published in Washington, D.C.). Succumbs to heat prostration; quarrels with O'Connor; writes will.

1873
23 January, suffers paralytic stroke. Mother dies on 23 May. "Song of the Universal" read at Tufts College commencement by proxy. June, Whitman leaves Washington and moves in with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey.

1874
12 July, receives adulatory letter from Carpenter. Midsummer, discharged from his position in Washington. Publishes "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus" in Harper's Magazine.

1876
Publishes "Author's" or "Centennial" edition of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets, a matched set of volumes, and Memoranda During the War (all in Camden, New Jersey); and "Walt Whitman's Actual American Position" in West Jersey Press (26 January), an unsigned article that leads to an international controversy about America's neglect of Whitman. Befriends Harry Stafford, a printers' employee; frequently visits the Stafford family farm at Timber Creek. September, Anne Gilchrist visits the United States with her children, rents a house, and hopes to marry Whitman.

1877
28 January, lectures on Thomas Paine in Philadelphia. Painted by George W. Waters in New York. May, Edward Carpenter visits Whitman in Camden; Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke visits Whitman and becomes a close friend. Whitman visits Burroughs in Esopus, New York, with Harry Stafford.

1878
Too sick to give planned lecture on "The Death of Abraham Lincoln" in spring. June, visits J.H. Johnston and John Burroughs in New York.

1879
14 April, gives first Lincoln lecture in New York. Anne Gilchrist returns to England. September, travels west as far as Colorado; falls ill, and stays with brother Jeff in St. Louis.

1880
April, gives Lincoln lecture in Philadelphia. January, returns to Camden. June to October, travels in Canada and visits Bucke in London, Ontario.

1881
15 April, gives Lincoln lecture in Boston. August to October, visits Boston to supervise a new edition of Leaves of Grass published by James R. Osgood containing the final arrangement of 293 poems. Visits Emerson in Concord.

1882
January, Oscar Wilde visits Whitman in Camden. April, Osgood withdraws edition of Leaves of Grass on complaint of Boston District Attorney. Rees Welsh (later David McKay) reprints Osgood edition in Philadelphia and issues Specimen Days and Collect. Publicity of Boston "suppression" of Whitman causes unprecedented boom in sales of Leaves of Grass. Becomes friends with Pearsall Smith, wealthy Philadelphia glass merchant and prominent Quaker.

1883
McKay publishes Bucke's Walt Whitman a biography written with contributions from Whitman.

1884
March, buys house at 328 Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, with royalties from McKay edition of Leaves of Grass. June, Carpenter visits a second time. Becomes friends with Horace Traubel, Thomas Harned, Talcott Williams, Thomas Donaldson, and Robert Ingersoll.

1885
July, has heat stroke. Friends, headed by Donaldson, present him with horse and buggy.

1886
Gives Lincoln lecture in Elkton, Maryland; Camden; Philadelphia; and Haddonfield, New Jersey. Pall Mall Gazette promotes fund which presents Whitman with eighty pounds. Boston supporters send $800 for purchase of summer cottage on Timber Creek (never built).

1887
14 April, Lincoln lecture in New York City at Madison Square Theater attracts many notables and nets $600, followed by reception at Westminster Hotel. Sculptured by Sidney Morse; painted by Herbert Gilchrist, J.W. Alexander, and Thomas Eakins.

1888
June, suffers another paralytic stroke followed by severe illness. Makes a new will naming Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and Horace Traubel as literary executors. Publishes November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay).

1889
Seventieth birthday party commemorated in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (ed. Horace Traubel. Philadelphia: David McKay).

1890
April, delivers Lincoln lecture for the last time, Philadelphia. 19 August, writes to John Addington Symonds; declares Symond's homosexual interpretation of "Calamus" poems "damnable" and claims to have fathered six illegitimate children. October, Whitman contracts to have $4,000 tomb built for himself in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

1891
Publishes Good-bye My Fancy and Deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass (both published by McKay, dated 1892). Prepares Complete Prose Works (McKay, 1892). Last birthday dinner at Mickle Street. December, catches pneumonia.

1892
26 March, dies at Mickle Street; 30 March, buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

William A. Pannapacker
Reproduced from J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), by permission.

(For more information see Wikipedia)

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