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WALT WHITMAN: BARD OF DEMOCRACY


A Biographical Chronology

1819
Walter Whitman born May 31, West Hills Township, Huntington, L.I., the second of seven surviving children of Walter, Sr., a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor.
1823
Walter Whitman, Sr.
moves family to Brooklyn.

1825
Marquis de Lafayette visits Brooklyn and, according to the boy Whitman, embraces him.

1831-1836
Whitman learns printing trade on BROOKLYN PATRIOT and STAR; he remains in New York City, after family returns to Long Island and works briefly as a printer.
1836-1838
After a fire destroys most of the NY presses, Whitman moves back to Long Island to teach school in several rural communities, found a weekly newspaper, and write his first short stories and verse.

1841-45
Whitman moves to New York City, works as a compositor for NEW WORLD, and later as a journalist and printer for AURORA and THE EVENING TATTLER. He publishes his first stories, among them DEATH IN THE SCHOOL ROOM (1841), and a temperance novel, FRANKLIN EVANS (1842).

1845
Whitman moves back to Brooklyn, begins his theatre, music, and literary criticism for THE BROOKLYN EAGLE, and becomes a devotee of opera.

1848-49
Whitman goes to new Orleans with brother Jeff to work for NEW ORLEANS CRESCENT, where he stays only three months; he returns to edit the Brooklyn Freeman, a paper with Free-soil politics.

1849-1854
Whitman works as a printer, freelance journalist, housebuilder, and publishes four poems which will later appear in LEAVES OF GRASS.

1855
Whitman self-publishes first edition of LEAVES OF GRASS (795 copies, 12 poems and a preface); Emerson writes an exuberant letter of support.

1856
Whitman publishes second edition of LEAVES OF GRASS (33 poems, Emerson's letter and Whitman's response).

Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott visit Whitman in Brooklyn.

1857-59
Whitman edits BROOKLYN TIMES

1860
Whitman frequents Pfaff's, a bohemian literary hangout; he haunts the docks, ferries, and baths of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn; he goes to Boston to oversee third edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, published by Thayer & Eldridge, refusing to omit CHILDREN OF ADAM poems.

1861-62

At outbreak of Civil War, Whitman devotes himself to nursing the dying and the injured, first in New York hospitals and then in the battlefield hospitals in Virginia, where in 1862 he had traveled to find his wounded brother George.

1865
Whitman receives an appointment as a clerk in the Bureau of Indian Affairs until he is discharged by James Harlan for being the author of the "indecent" LEAVES OF GRASS; he is re-hired by Attorney General's Office; he publishes DRUM TAPS about his Civil War experiences; he meets and forms close relationship with Peter Doyle, a Washington streetcar conductor.

1867
Whitman publishes the fourth edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, as well as part I of DEMOCRATIC VISTAS.

1868
William Rosetti publishes a selection of Whitman's verse in England; the poet publishes part II of DEMOCRATIC VISTAS.

1870
Whitman publishes the fifth edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, DEMOCRATIC VISTAS, and PASSAGE TO INDIA (dated 1871); English author, friend of Rossettis and widow of Blake's biographer, Anne Gilchrist publishes A WOMAN'S ESTIMATE OF WALT WHITMAN, a feminist defense, in BOSTON RADICAL.

1871
Anne Gilchrist writes to Whitman her first love letter.

1873
Whitman suffers a paralytic stroke in January; his mother dies in May, and he goes to live with brother George in Camden, NJ.

1874
Whitman publishes A PRAYER OF COLUMBUS and SONG OF THE REDWOOD TREE; he is discharged from his government clerkship.

1876
Whitman publishes the sixth edition of LEAVES OF GRASS; (a reprint of the 1871 edition, designated the Centennial Edition), and meets his amuensis, Horace Traubel; he begins the last of relationships with young men with Harry Stafford and passes days at the Stafford home at Timber Creek, NJ; Anne Gilchrist comes to Philadelphia in hopes of marrying Whitman, only to return to England in 1879 after it becomes apparent their bond is platonic.

1877-79
Whitman undertakes a lecture tour, traveling as far west as Colorado.

1880
Whitman journeys to Canada to visit his admirer and future biographer, the psychiatrist R.M. Bucke.

1881
Whitman supervises a seventh edition of LEAVES OF GRASS by Boston firm of James R. Osgood (293 poems); he visits Emerson in Concord.

1882
Whitman withdraws LEAVES OF GRASS from Osgood, after the Boston District Attorney threatens the edition with the obscenity statute, and turns publication over to David McKay in Philadelphia; he also publishes his prose works, SPECIMEN DAYS and COLLECT.

1884
Whitman buys his first home on Mickle Street in Camden.

1888
Whitman publishes the eighth edition of LEAVES OF GRASS (Complete Poems and Prose) and NOVEMBER BOUGHS; he suffers another stroke.

1890
Using funds donated by his English friends, Whitman designs a tomb based on a William Blake engraving and supervises its construction in Camden's Harleigh Cemetery.

1891
Whitman publishes GOODBYE, MY FANCY and the ninth edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, called the "Deathbed Edition;" he dies March 26 at Mickle Street and is buried on March 30 at Harleigh, where he leaves the injunction that the tomb door should be left adjar at twilight so his spirit can stroll abroad.

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