(The following was written by Barbara Bair, historian in the Library’s Manuscript Division.)
As a special collections repository, the Library of Congress holds the largest collection of Walt Whitman materials anywhere in the world. The Manuscript Division has already made available online the Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers and the Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection). Now joining these online is the Library’s most extensive collection of Whitman primary documents, the Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection.
Charles E. Feinberg (1899-1988) was a prominent Whitman collector and Detroit businessman. Through a series of gifts and purchase arrangements, the Library acquired the Feinberg collection of Whitman materials between 1952 and 2010. Rare book editions and related materials from the Feinberg collection are held in the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and many visual images from the Feinberg collection are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division. The Manuscript Division is home to the incomparable Feinberg-Whitman Papers manuscript collection, now newly available to the public, teachers, students, Whitman biographers, poetry lovers and scholarly researchers online.
The Feinberg-Whitman Papers can be accessed electronically through the Library’s Digital Collections portal, or more precisely through folder-level links embedded in the Feinberg-Whitman Papers finding aid created by the Manuscript Division.
The digitized Feinberg-Whitman papers include some 28,000 items in a great variety of primary-document formats, including handwritten notebooks and diaries; scrapbook-like commonplace books; trial lines and draft and edited versions of poems, essays, and speeches; articles and book reviews; annotated maps; original correspondence; and page proofs and other items that document Whitman’s creative process as a writer, poet, newspaperman and book marketer and designer.
The items span from 1763 (prior to the famous poet’s birth in 1819, to a farm family of primarily Dutch heritage on Long Island, N.Y.) to 1985 (through Whitman’s death at his home in Camden, N.J., in March 1892, and extending into Whitman scholarship and publications in the modern era).
Included in the collection are several small artifacts, including a walking stick given to Whitman by his close friend, the naturalist John Burroughs; a haversack that Whitman used when he visited ill and wounded Civil War soldiers in military hospitals in war-time Washington; and a plaster bust created by Sidney H. Morse, as well as a pair of Whitman’s eyeglasses, a pocket watch and a pen.
Whitman is known today as one of the nation’s – indeed, the world’s – greatest poets, whose work “Leaves of Grass” (first published in 1855 and published in several revised and expanded editions through the last authorized “death-bed” edition in 1891-92) revolutionized American Literature and spoke for a new democratic age.
Whitman made a living as a young man in New York as a school teacher, apprentice printer, freelance writer and newspaper editor and writer. He maintained close ties with friends and family and developed strong acquaintances with some of the leading reformers and literary figures of his day. When he lived in Washington, D.C., in the 1860s and 1870s, he continued to write but also made a living as a civil servant, working as a clerk in federal agencies. In the last period of his life, in Camden, N.J., he produced additional prose works and gave a series of public lectures about the death of Abraham Lincoln.
All these periods of Whitman’s life – as well as his legacy and impact on other writers and poets who lived in generations after him – are documented in the Feinberg-Whitman Papers collection.