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Collection Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection)

About this Collection

This small collection of papers (about 150 items; 1,200 images) of poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) spans the years 1837-1957 with the bulk concentrated in the period 1840-1891. Included are examples of the poet’s original correspondence and literary manuscripts, photocopies and transcripts of similar Whitman material, and printed matter and miscellaneous items relating to Whitman.  Known as the Walt Whitman Papers Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection (MMC), it contains only a small sampling of the types of items found in the larger Library of Congress collections of Whitman material, most notably those assembled by Thomas Biggs Harned and Charles E. Feinberg (digital edition forthcoming).  It includes, however, some of Whitman's earliest known correspondence, written to Abraham P. Leech, and a printed copy of Whitman's poem O Captain! My Captain! containing the poet's handwritten corrections. A small selection of family letters, including correspondence of Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and his sister, Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde describe domestic routines and express personal sentiments.

Whitman's letters to Abraham P. Leech, 1840-1841, describe his life as a schoolteacher in the towns of Woodbury and Whitestone, Long Island, New York. The letters relate his distaste as a young man for teaching at Woodbury and portray his general dislike for small-town life at that time. Whitman also expressed his support for the Democratic party and its candidate for the 1840 presidential election, Martin Van Buren, despite Leech's adherence to the Whig party candidate, William Henry Harrison. The file also contains copies of letters from Leech to Whitman, genealogical notes of the Leech family, a small diary kept by Abraham Leech, 1838-1844, and other miscellaneous fragments and items.

O Captain! My Captain!, considered by many to be Whitman's most popular poem, was widely anthologized during his lifetime. The collection contains a copy of the poem formerly described as a proof sheet in the Library's publication Walt Whitman: A Catalog Based upon the Collections of the Library of Congress. It is instead a printed page torn from volume thirty-two of the Riverside Literature Series, corrected in Whitman's hand, and returned to Riverside Press. A short letter to the printer remarking on the errors and noting Whitman's accompanying corrections is included on the verso of the page.
Many of the items in the collection are identified in the catalog, which contains an annotated bibliographic listing of Whitman items located within the collections of various divisions in the Library of Congress. Identification numbers tagged to specific entries in the catalog are noted on the folders containing those items. This catalog, available online through the HathiTrust, should be consulted for the fullest description of the material.

A microfilm edition of original Whitman materials at other repositories compiled by Roy Basler in 1962, and a plaster bust donated to the Library's poetry office by sculptor E. F. Diggins were added to the collection in 2012. A fragment of prose, "Idea of Piece [Peace] in a Storm," and a photograph of Whitman were interfiled in the collection in 2013. Additions are made as items become available.

This collection is arranged alphabetically by type of material as outlined below with links from the contents list in the finding aid to specific folders of digitized items within these categories.

  • Correspondence
  • Family Papers
  • Literary File
    • Poetry
    • Prose
  • Miscellany
  • Photographs
  • Printed Matter
  • Reproductions
  • Artifact: Plaster bust of Walt Whitman

Two other collections of Whitman materials in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division are the Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers and the Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection.