The Library of Congress holds the largest archival collection of Walt Whitman materials in the world. These materials are primarily housed in the Library’s Manuscript Division and its Rare Book & Special Collections Division. In May, two of the Manuscript Division’s Whitman collections were made available on the Library’s website.
First, the Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers consists of approximately 3,000 items (4,126 images) spanning the period 1842-1937, with most of the items dated from 1855, when Whitman first published the poem Leaves of Grass, to his death at age seventy-three in 1892. Harned, an attorney and one of Whitman’s three literary executors, donated his collection to the Library of Congress in 1918. It consists of correspondence, poetry and prose manuscripts, notes and notebooks, proofs and offprints, printed matter, and miscellaneous items.
As a sample of the poetry manuscripts available through the Harned Collection, here is an early, heavily revised draft of “A Clear Midnight,” one of my favorite short poems by Whitman:
Second, the Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection) consists of approximately 150 items (1,200 images) and spans the years 1837-1957, with the bulk of materials 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. The collection includes 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.
For Whitman fans and scholars there is more good news on the horizon: the Manuscript Division’s Charles E. Feinberg Collection [view finding aid] which likely represents the largest and most significant collection in the world related to Whitman, will soon be available in a digital edition on the Library’s website. Look for a blog post from us as soon as the collection goes online. In the meantime, take a look at the Feinberg materials available through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s wonderful Walt Whitman Archive, which includes catalogs and many digitized items from other Whitman collections housed at the Library.
To learn more about Whitman-related materials available in the Library’s physical and digital collections, see our Web guide Walt Whitman: Online Resources. And if you have any reference questions about Whitman, or questions about our Whitman holdings, contact the Poetry and and Literature Center and we’ll be sure they get forwarded to the appropriate Library division for response.