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Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


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Landmark second edition of the epic American poetry collection, the first to include among the most famous blurbs in literature — Emerson's complimentary quote stamped, without permission, on the book's spine.

  • Walt Whitman (American).
  • Brooklyn: (Walt Whitman), 1856.
  • iv, 5-384, [2] pages.
  • Duodecimo.
  • Illustrated with engraved frontispiece portrait of Whitman.
  • Bound in original green cloth stamped in blind, front board and spine lettered in gilt.

When Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855, few recognized the transformative effect it would have on American literature — but Ralph Waldo Emerson, the era's most respected literary critic, was among those who did. Upon receiving a complimentary copy from Whitman, Emerson responded with a letter of thanks and perceptive praise as to Whitman's achievement: "I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." A section at the rear of this edition entitled "Leaves-Droppings" prints Emerson's complimentary letter in its entirety, but Whitman also printed one part of the letter — "I greet you at the beginning of a great career" — on the spine, becoming one of the first modern blurbs. Unfortunately, he did not seek Emerson's permission to make the correspondence public, and Emerson was displeased to learn of it.

This second edition is expanded from the first with twenty poems added to the original twelve, including "Song of the Open Road." Because it is not only so much larger, but also because Whitman rearranged and revised poems, many scholars argue that "it is, in effect, a new work" (Aspiz). Published only a year after the first of only 795 copies, this is also the first pocket edition; the original edition was printed in an odd large format because Whitman had to use the materials on hand at his friends' print shop. Both were self-published by Whitman, who brought an energy and creativity to book promotion rarely seen in this era: "despite his seeming self-confidence (colossal egoism, some have said) and his unlimited faith in a democratic society in which all are equal, Whitman engaged in a lifelong manipulation of the public and posterity through an unrelenting publicity campaign. [...] He left nothing to chance" (Miller, xiii). The use of Emerson's quote as a blurb was a prophetically skillful use of borrowed authority for marketing, unauthorized though it was.

As Harold Aspiz notes, "Despite its artistic merit, [this edition] was Whitman's greatest publishing failure [...] sales were even poorer than those for the first [...] copies are now quite rare." A lovely copy of this transformational book in modern poetry. Blanck, Bibliography of American Literature (BAL), 21396; Myerson, Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, A2.2; E.H. Miller, Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"; Aspiz, "Leaves of Grass, 1856 Edition."

Condition Report

Star iconVery Good
Like New

Single page of ads at rear.

Early 20th century engraved bookplate to front pastedown.

Light rubbing to spine ends and corners, spine rather toned with gilt dulled.

Some scattered foxing.

Hinges strong.


Height: 6 inches / 15.24 cm
Width: 3.75 inches / 9.53 cm




Americana, Poetry

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