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Collection Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers

About this Collection

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, described more thoroughly in the series description below.  As a comprehensive digital edition of the Harned Collection, this site expands greatly on the Library of Congress’s earlier online presentation, titled Poet at Work, which was limited to the series listed below as Recovered Cardboard Butterfly and Notebooks.

Whitman's papers were divided among his three literary executors--Harned, Richard M. Bucke, and Horace L. Traubel. Of these, only Harned’s collection remains largely intact, the integrity of the other collections having been lost through dispersal.  A detailed description of the Harned Collection is contained in Walt Whitman: A Catalog, which was published by the Library of Congress in 1955.  It contains an introductory essay on significant Whitman collectors and their collections and an annotated bibliographic listing of Whitman items then located among the collections of various divisions within the Library. This catalog, available online through the HathiTrust, should be used in conjunction with the present finding aid. The latter describes the collection at the folder level from which links lead the user to the digitized contents. The printed catalog also includes many other Whitman collections held by the Library as of 1955.

Two other collections of Whitman materials in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division are the small Walt Whitman Papers Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection, now available online, and the Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection

General Description of Whitman’s Notetaking and Literary Practices

Whitman’s personal habits were such that he wrote and collected his notes in a casual and unsystematic manner, entrusting his thoughts to scraps of paper, be it the back of a used envelope or the verso of a letter. His notebooks contain an equal number of random jottings, some no more than bits and pieces of paper sewn together to form a small notebook. These notes and notebooks include names and addresses, trial titles, trial lines of poetry and prose pieces, diary and hospital notes, pencil sketches and drawings, drafts of poems and essays, autobiographical and personal notes, printing and publishing notes, and miscellaneous notes on a wide range of subjects such as history, geography, politics, and ethnology.

Poems and prose writings in the Manuscripts series vary in form from tentative outlines to final drafts. This material often shows the extensive revision characteristic of Whitman’s composition. Related notes and notebook entries add details helpful for textual analysis of the poems. Whitman’s practice of drafting letters, notes, and literary works on the back of incoming letters necessitates the identification of verso items in order to provide full documentation. References to verso entries are noted in the published catalog and reflected through cross-reference citations in the finding aid.

Description of Series

This collection is arranged in thirteen series noted below.  Links to specific folders of digitized items within each of these series are included in the finding aid contents list.

Manuscripts, [1859]-[circa 1892]

Holograph drafts, notes and trial lines of essays, poems, and prose writings. Organized by type of material and arranged chronologically therein.

Notes and Memoranda, [1856?]-[Before 1888?]

Holograph fragments, notes and fragments, partial manuscripts of essays, autobiographical pieces, lectures, and other prose writings. Arranged chronologically.

Notebooks, [1847]-[1885?]

Notebooks containing diary entries, drafts, literary notes, names and addresses, sketches and drawings, and trial titles. Selected copies of portions of six missing notebooks, made prior to their disappearance, are located in the Photocopies and the Supplementary Papers series.

Correspondence, 1866-1891

Letters to and from Whitman, drafts of outgoing letters, and postcards. Arranged sequentially by catalog item number.  James R. Osgood printed the Boston edition of Leaves of Grass (1881-1882), which was withdrawn from publication after being censored by local authorities. Correspondence between Osgood and Whitman about this edition is contained in the collection, as are letters exchanged with T. W. Rolleston concerning German and Russian translations. Other correspondents include Anne Burrows Gilchrist, Thomas Biggs Harned, William Sloane Kennedy, James M. Scovel, J. M. Stoddart, and Benjamin Holt Ticknor.

Miscellany, 1855-1905

Letters of correspondents other than Whitman, newspaper and magazine clippings, printed matter, and miscellaneous items.  Arranged sequentially by catalog item number.

Proofs and Offprints, 1864-1891

Proofs and offprints of Whitman’s poems, prose, and speeches, as well as articles about Whitman and poems by poets other than Whitman.  Whitman often revised his writings after having them set in type, and several of the proofs in this series contain either corrections of the text or notations for the printer. Arranged sequentially by catalog item number.

Lincoln Material, [Before 1865?]-[1891]

Poetry and prose manuscripts, notes and drafts of writings and lectures, printed matter, letters to Whitman from A. J. Bloor, and proofs concerned with events surrounding the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. Disbound and arranged sequentially by catalog item number.  Whitman had been greatly moved by Abraham Lincoln, who symbolized for him the best in the American national character and who inspired some of his greatest poetry. He lectured extensively on Lincoln, and in a series of lectures given between 1879 and 1890, he recalled details of Lincoln’s life and death and sketched an intimate profile based on personal reminiscence. The Lincoln Material series contains a thematic grouping of various types of manuscripts and printed matter concerning these lectures and related topics.

"Whitman Broadsides," 1855-1889

Reprints of three Whitman articles, a printed copy of a letter to Whitman from Ralph Waldo Emerson dated 21 July 1855, and a canceled check which were mounted and bound in a single volume entitled, "Whitman Broadsides--1855." Arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Photocopies, [1847]-[1876]

Photocopies of selections from the ten missing notebooks and cardboard butterfly made from the manuscripts prior to their disappearance from the Library of Congress.  Organized by type of material and arranged chronologically therein.

Supplementary Papers, 1842-1937

Letters between correspondents other than Whitman, notes and writings, newspaper clippings, printed matter, and transcripts of notebooks. Additional photocopies of portions of a missing notebook (item no. 84) are also included. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Recovered Cardboard Butterfly and Notebooks, [1847]-[circa 1863-1864]

In 1942, a group of Whitman notebooks from the Harned Collection, along with other national treasures, were evacuated from Washington, D.C., for safekeeping during World War II. Upon the return of the material from storage in 1944, it was discovered that ten Whitman notebooks and a cardboard butterfly were missing. In 1995, the Library regained custody of four of these notebooks and the butterfly, but six notebooks remain missing.  The recovered items are numbered 1, 2, 5, 7, and 11 in the Library’s 1954 pamphlet “Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers,” and numbers 80, 86, 94, 101, and 220 in the 1955 Walt Whitman: A Catalog.

These recovered notebooks contain diary entries, poetry drafts and trial lines, prose drafts, notes on Civil War hospital patients, names and addresses, and miscellaneous notes. They relate to Whitman’s early career as a journalist and poet and include notes on perception and the senses, and observations made in Washington, D.C., while Whitman was working as a nurse in Civil War hospitals in the city. Whitman also used the notebooks to record the public’s reaction to and acceptance of his poetry. The earliest notebook in the collection, written between 1847 and 1854, contains drafts of one of Whitman’s most famous poems, “Song of Myself.” The cardboard butterfly is thought to be the same Whitman wired on his finger in a photograph that was published as the frontispiece for the 1889 birthday edition of Leaves of Grass.  Although photocopies of parts of the recovered items remain in the collection, cross references refer only to the original documents.

Most of the content in the recovered notebooks was published, based on research done before their disappearance from the Library, in the following: Emory Holloway, The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (1921); Clifton Joseph Furness, Walt Whitman's Workshop (1928); and Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War (1933). The fullest edition of their texts may be found in Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier (New York University Press, 1984), in volumes 1 and 2 of 6 vols. More information on these recovered notebooks may be found under the Articles and Essays tab.

Thomas Biggs Harned Memoirs, 1919-1920

Harned’s reflections in three volumes, including an account of his relations with Whitman. Not digitized.

Oversize, 1848-1902

Miscellaneous items, photographs and newspaper clippings.  Arranged and described according to the series, containers, and folders from which the items were removed.