Alternate Text BACK TO GALLERY

Peter Harrington

Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass.

Whitman’s great song of America, in the first and most elaborate state of the delicate binding


First edition, first state binding. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was self-published by Whitman. His money ran tight as production continued and the bindings became progressively less elaborate. Only 337 copies were bound in the deluxe first binding with gilt border, edges gilt and marbled endpapers, as here. A total of 795 copies were eventually produced.

As a former newspaperman and printer, Whitman had an unusually close involvement in the physical aspects of the publication. The type was partially hand-set by the poet himself for printing in the Brooklyn Heights shop of Andrew Rome, assisted by his brother, Tom. Various stop-press revisions within the first printing have been identified, with this copy exhibiting a mix of first and second states as usual. As the hand-set type jostled and occasionally fell off the hand-inked, iron-bed press, each copy is arguably unique.

A fine copy of this book which, more than any other perhaps, has defined America to itself. "He was and is the poet and prophet of democracy, and the intoxication of his immense affirmative, the fervor of his 'barbaric yawp,' are so powerful that the echo of his crude yet rhythmic song rings forever in the American air" (Grolier One Hundred). Much has been written of the significance of this first edition - “America's second Declaration of Independence” to quote PMM. “The slender volume introduced the poet who, celebrating the nation by celebrating himself, has since remained at the heart of America's cultural memory because in the world of his imagination Americans have learned to recognize and possibly understand their own” (Marki, “Leaves of Grass, 1855 edition,” in Walt Whitman, 1998).