Landmark Books in All Fields
ItemID: #126139
Cost: $17,500.00

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


WHITMAN, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn, New York: [Fowler & Wells, for the author], 1856. 12mo, original dark green cloth. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box. $17,500.

Rare and enlarged second edition, one of only 1000 copies printed, with frontispiece portrait of Whitman and advertisement leaf following text. With 20 additional poems not appearing in the 1855 first edition—including "A Woman Waits for Me" and "Who Learns My Lesson Complete?"—"the book is quite a rarity and is seldom found in good condition" (Wells and Goldsmith). With manuscript presentation note from the publishers laid in, "Edward D. Littledale, Presented by Fowlers & Wells."

"Whitman is both the poet and the prophet of democracy… In a sense, [Leaves of Grass] is America's second Declaration of Independence" (PMM 340). This second edition, with 20 more poems than the first edition in 1855, reveals Whitman's concern to reach as large an audience as possible; he introduced changes in the book's internal and external format intended to evoke the then-popular volumes of poetry by Whittier and Longfellow, including the latter's spectacularly successful Song of Hiawatha. "The second edition represents the fact that Whitman "had arrived at that necessary combination of originality and convention by which the most vigorous of talents always perpetuates itself… This is the poetry of day and the poetry of unending flow… He was never again to attain so final a peak of creative and visionary intoxication" (Bloom, Whitman, 112-14).

The most controversial change would prove to be his inclusion of praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson on the book's spine. Acknowledging receipt of his complimentary copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, Emerson had hailed Whitman's achievement: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." When Whitman brought out this second edition the next year, Emerson's unguarded testimonial appeared on the spine (as designed by Whitman himself) in gilt letters. Emerson was agitated about the use of his private words as advertising copy: "Friends who visited Emerson when the blazoned second edition arrived in the mail claimed that until that moment they had never seen him truly angry" (Kaplan, 211).

This second edition "was published by Fowler and Wells, and while they refused to print their name on the title-page, all copies have a leaf of Fowler and Wells' advertisements"—as in the present copy (Wells and Goldsmith, 5-6). "Like the first, it was privately published, but it also had—like the first—the secret backing of the phrenological firm of Fowler and Wells. Whitman believed in phrenology to the extent that the movement encouraged good personal hygiene and physical exercise, because he saw a healthy body as the signature of a healthy soul" (ANB).

Among the poems appearing for the first time in this edition are "Poem of Salutation" ("O take my hand, Walt Whitman!"), "Poem of Procreation" ("A woman waits for me—she contains all, nothing is lacking") and "Lesson Poem." Also included in this edition are the whole text of Emerson's letter to Whitman, Whitman's reply and reviews of the first edition. Myerson A.2.2. BAL 21396. Reynolds, 352-63.

With manuscript presentation note from the publishers laid in, "Edward D. Littledale / Presented by / Fowlers & Wells." Before 1856, the firm was named Fowlers and Wells, a partnership of brothers Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and their brother-in-law Samuel Wells. Fowlers and Wells specialized in scientific and physiological texts—which included phrenology, at that time—and in the store Whitman ran from 1848 to 1852 he sold a wide range of Fowlers and Wells titles. "It is Orson Fowler, the chief writer for Fowlers and Wells, whose attitude toward sex is especially instructive with regard to Whitman… Both Orson and Whitman had a deep-seated belief in the sacredness and purity of sex when rightly treated… It was almost certainly Orson who was responsible for taking on Leaves of Grass as a Fowlers and Wells book in the midfifties, since by then his views on sex accorded almost exactly with Whitman's. Significantly, he broke with the firm at about the same time as Whitman and over the same issue: sex. In 1855 Orson left Fowlers and Wells (thereafter Fowler and Wells) to pursue a career as a lecturer on sex. The firm's pragmatic businessman, Samuel Wells, in effect forced him out by suppressing his new scientific book on sex… The next year Wells cracked down on Whitman for a similar reason" (Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, 209-10). By the time Whitman was ready to publish his greatly expanded third edition, in 1860, he and Fowler and Wells had long since parted ways. "Fowler and Wells are bad persons for me. They retard my book very much. It is worse than ever… they want the thing off their hands" he wrote to Sarah Tyndale in 1857. The laid-in presentation inscription signed "Fowlers & Wells" indicates that this slip was penned at the time of publication, quite possibly by Orson, as of the three partners he had the most affinity with the poet.

Some foxing to text, as often; mild toning to spine, gilt still quite legible. An unrestored copy in near-fine condition.

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