Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Brandeis University




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Leaves of Grass

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          The first edition of Whitman’s major poetic work was published in 1855 at his own expense, and bore only his image—no name.  From the first to the last of the six editions of Leaves of Grass, the structure and layout of the book was invested (to the extent that he could influence them) with as much significance by Whitman as the words themselves.  We are reminded of this when we consider his lifelong involvement with printing shops and binderies; he was even known to have set the type for many of his publications himself. 

          Arranged here and on the next page is a selection of editions of Leaves of Grass that span the period from 1855 to 1955, from the exceedingly rare early editions to beautiful fine-press examples brought out long after his death.  Though these later examples (one of which is, amusingly enough, bound with materials apparently meant to resemble grass) cannot be said necessarily to have lent expression in every case to Whitman’s particular vision of the ideal fusion between the word and its vehicle, it is certainly true that many of them aim at a realization in illustration and form of the themes the poet addressed throughout his career.

Leaves of Grass 1856

Second edition (1856)

Leaves of Grass 1860

Third edition (1860)

Leaves of Grass 1881-82 Boston title page       Leaves of Grass 1881-82 Boston frontispiece

5th edition (1881-82)

Boston, James R. Osgood and Company. 

This is the first edition to have the poems from "Passage to India" incorporated in the main body of the work. 

Leaves of Grass 1881-82 Cover McKay edition       Leaves of Grass 1881-82 McKay frontisp

1884 McKay edition:  A later issue of the first Philadelphia edition.

David McKay, the publisher, was Whitman’s friend.