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Walt Whitman

1819-1892

Walt Whitman was born May 31, 1819 in Long Island, New York. Whitman was the second son and child and had 8 other siblings. His father was Walter Whitman a house builder, firm disciplinarian, and of English descent. His mother was Louisa Van Velsor of Dutch descent. In 1823 Walt Whitman s father moved the family to Brooklyn and was a carpenter. Walter Whitman was a poor manager so he struggled to support the family while it increased to nine children. Walt Whitman attended public school in Brooklyn and at age 12 began working as a printer. As he got older he taught in country schools in Long Island and became a journalist. In 1846 when Whitman was 23 he was the editor of an important daily newspaper in New York known as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Whitman was dismissed from the newspaper in 1848 as a result for his support of the Free Soil discord of the Democratic Party. He then moved to New Orleans, LA where he worked on the Crescent via the Mississippi river before returning to New York. After another failed attempt at Free Soil journalism he worked on houses from about 1850 to 1855. On Whitman s spare time he attended many Shakespeare plays and found great interest in opera music. BY the spring of 1855 Whitman had enough writing to be placed inside a thin volume. Whitman had to sell a house in order to publish his first edition of Leaves of Grass. In 1856 the second edition of Leaves of Grass was produced containing revisions of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The second edition was a failure and Whitman again edited a

newspaper the Brooklyn Times and was out of work by the summer of 1859. In 1860 a Boston publisher published Whitman s third edition of Leaves of Grass. The third edition was modified but the firm that published the work went bankrupt due to the start of the American Civil War. The third edition contained Whitman s Calamus poems which expressed intense feelings about his personal life which is believed to be about a homosexual affair; this was never validated whether real or imagined. Soon after the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Whitman s brother was injured in the war fighting at Fredericksburg. Whitman went to care for his brother in 1862 spending some time in the camp. Visiting wounded troops from both sides of the view is what Whitman did on his free time. With the little money he had from his salary he bought small gifts for soldiers to alleviate some of the mental depression and physical suffering in the wards. In January 1865 Whitman became a clerk for the Department of Interior. In May he was promoted but by June he was laid off because the secretary of the Interior was unhappy with Leaves of Grass . Whitman later obtained a post in the attorney general s office thanks his friend William O Connor. O Connor wrote an excerpt known as The Good Gray Poet about Whitman s injustice. In May 1865 Whitman wrote a series of war poems known as the Drum Taps which gave his readers a declining excitement. Instead of writing about soldiers being armed and ready for battle he included an awareness of suffering for fallen soldiers. In 1867 the fourth edition of Leaves of Grass was published. During the rest of Whitman s life he received encouragement from other writers. Whitman became ill in 1872 due to emotional strains. In January of 1873 his first stroke left him partially paralyzed. Luckily by May he recovered and traveled to his brother s home in Camden, New Jersey where his mother was dying. Her death thereafter is what Whitman called the great cloud of his life. He remained living with his brother in Camden and his attorneys general office was terminated in 1874. Whitman s health recovered well enough in 1879 for him to take a trip to the west. In1881 James R. Osgood published the second Boston edition of Leaves of Grass. The Society for the Suppression of Vice ruled it immoral. As a result of the prosecution Osgood gave the plates to Whitman. Whitman found another publisher Rees Welsh of Philadelphia who was then succeeded by David McKay. This time Leaves of Grass reached the highest popularity and was published in the newspapers. With the proceeds Whitman received he bought a small house in Camden. Whitman made many new friends along the way including Horace Traubel who recorded his interview and recorded his biography. The ninth edition of Leaves of Grass came in 1892, the year of Whitman s death.