Poet at Work: Walt Whitman Notebooks 1850s -1860s

About This Collection

The Thomas B. Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman

  • 1842-1937 (bulk 1855-1892).
  • 3000 items.
  • 8 containers.
  • 7 microfilm reels.

Scope and Content of the Thomas B. Harned Collection

The Thomas B. Harned collection of the Walt Whitman papers spans the period 1842 to 1937, with most of the items dated from 1855 to 1892. It was donated in 1918. The collection consists of correspondence, poetry and prose manuscripts, notes and notebooks, proofs and offprints, printed matter, and miscellaneous items, laminated and boxed in seven containers, and supplemented by one manuscript box of ancillary material. A detailed description of the Harned collection has been published in the Library of Congress publication Walt Whitman: A Catalog (1955), which contains an introductory essay on significant Whitman collectors and their collections and an annotated bibliographic listing of Whitman items located among the collections of various divisions within the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman's papers were divided among his three literary executors , Richard M. Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and Horace L. Traubel. Of these, only Harned's collection remains largely intact, the integrity of the other collections having been lost through dispersal. Whitman's personal habits were such that he wrote and collected his notes in a casual and unsystematic manner, entrusting his thoughts to whatever odd scrap of paper chance would provide, be it the back of a used envelope or the verso of a letter. His notebooks contain an equal number of random jottings, some no more than bits and pieces of paper sewn together to form a small notebook. These notes and notebooks include names and addresses, trial titles, trial lines of poetry and prose pieces, diary and hospital notes, pencil sketches and drawings, drafts of poems and essays, autobiographical and personal notes, printing and publishing notes, and miscellaneous notes on a wide range of subjects such as history, geography, politics, and ethnology.

Poems and prose writings in the manuscripts series vary in form from tentative outlines to final drafts. These materials often show the extensive versions which were characteristic of Whitman's composition.. Related notes and notebook entries add detail helpful for textual analysis of the poems. Whitman's practice of drafting letters, notes, and literary works on the back of incoming letters makes necessary the identification of verso items in order to provide full documentation.

James R. Osgood printed the Boston edition of Leaves of Grass (1881-82) which was withdrawn from publication after being censored by local authorities. Substantial correspondence exchanged between Osgood and Whitman about this edition is contained in the collection. Letters between Whitman and Thomas William H. Rolleston concerning German and Russian translations of Leaves of Grass are also included. Other correspondents include Anne Gilchrist, Thomas B. Harned, William Sloane Kennedy, James M. Scovel, Joseph M. Stoddart, and Benjamin H. Ticknor.

Whitman had been greatly moved by the intelligence and compassion of Abraham Lincoln, who symbolized for him the best in the American national character and who inspired some of his greatest poetry. Whitman also lectured extensively on the martyred President, and in a series of lectures given between 1879 and 1890, he stressed the historical significance of Lincoln, recalling details of his life and death and sketching out an intimate profile from personal reminiscence. The series entitled "Lincoln Material" contains a thematic grouping of various types of manuscripts and printed matter concerning these lectures and related topics. Proofs and offprints of prose and poetry are in the collection. Whitman often revised his writings after having them set in type and several of the proofs in this series contain either corrections of the text or notations for the printer.

—Michael McElderry, Archivist, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress