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May 31, 2016

Walt Whitman - Earliest and most important notebook

Among the treasures held by the Library of Congress, the Thomas B. Harned collection of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) papers offers an unguarded glance into the poet’s process. According to the notes by Alice L. Birney that introduce the collection, the notebooks “feature personal philosophy, poetry trial lines, notes on Civil War scenes, notations on needs of wounded soldiers in Washington hospitals, names and addresses.”

There’s a bit of mystery around the collection that sounds like a poetry prompt in itself. Harned was one of Whitman’s three literary executors. He donated some 3,000 items to the Library in 1918. After “a 1942 wartime evacuation of treasures” (to repositories in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia, among other places) ten of the Whitman notebooks in the Harned collection “went missing.” Four of them were returned in 1995 after they were brought to Sotheby’s for evaluation. Six are still missing. Read the story here.

While Whitman’s notebooks have been transcribed into various books, the LOC collection allows the viewer to browse each one page by page, seeing, for example, the earliest drafts of lines from “Song of Myself” in Whitman’s hand. There are some 98,000 items in the LOC Whitman collection. View Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection here.
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