Walt Whitman


31 May: Walter Whitman is born to Louisa and Walter Whitman in Huntington Township on Long Island, NY. He is the second of eight surviving children. His father will struggle to support the family as a farmer, a carpenter, and an unsuccessful real estate speculator.


27 May: WW's family moves to Brooklyn, across the East River from New York City.


WW's father takes him out of school at age 11 to help support the family; he has attained more formal schooling than either of his parents. He finds work as an office boy, and then apprentices as a printer for a local newspaper. In 1833, his family moves back to Long Island. WW works at several newspapers in Brooklyn, Long Island and New York City.


WW teaches school on Long Island. He stops teaching from 1838-39 to publish a weekly newspaper, the Long Islander.


WW moves back to New York City to work as a printer. He also begins publishing fiction and poetry, as well as journalistic pieces, in newspapers and journals. In 1842 his didactic temperance novel, Franklin Evans, or the Inebriate, appears in print. He stakes out radical positions on labor issues, women's property rights, capital punishment and immigration -- putting him in near constant opposition to society's prevailing sentiments. In just four years in Manhattan, WW works briefly at the Tattler, the Daily Plebeian, the Statesman, the Mirror, the Democrat, the Sun and the Star.


WW moves back to Brooklyn and writes for newspapers there.


February: WW and his brother Jeff travel to New Orleans. WW has been offered a job at the New Orleans Crescent. His stay will be brief; by May he will resign and return to Brooklyn.


WW founds and edits the Brooklyn Weekly Freeman, which advocates the "free soil" position that new states entering the Union should declare slavery illegal.


WW runs a printing office and stationery store, and also does freelance writing and house building.


15 May: Brooklyn printer Andrew Rome prints the first edition of Leaves of Grass. (There is no credited author, although WW is named in a poem and is credited on the copyright page.) WW helps set some of the type.


WW writes for Life Illustrated, and publishes a second edition of Leaves of Grass, with the letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson.


WW edits the Brooklyn Times. Much of his spare time in this period is spent at Pfaff's, a restaurant in lower Manhattan favored by bohemian artists and writers.


The third edition of Leaves of Grass is published in Boston. In Massachusetts to see his new publisher, WW also visits with his literary hero, Emerson.


The Civil War begins. WW's younger brother George joins the Union Army.


December: WW travels to Fredericksburg, Virginia, after George Whitman appears on a list of wounded soldiers in the newspaper. George's injury is minor and he will continue to serve in the Army.


Finding he has a talent and desire to give comfort to wounded soldiers, WW relocates to Washington, D.C. and makes the rounds of the local military hospitals. He gets a part-time job at the Army Paymaster's Office to pay for his modest rented room.


24 January: WW takes a job at the Department of the Interior.

30 June: After his supervisor reads Leaves of Grass, WW is fired from his job at Interior. He finds a new job at the Attorney General's office.

October: Publishes Drum-Taps, a book of poems on the subject of the Civil War and Sequel, containing a new elegy on the death of Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."


WW publishes his fourth edition of Leaves of Grass.

From a contemporary review:

It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards." — Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The Atlantic, "Literature as an Art," 1867.

After a move back to Brooklyn, WW publishes the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass, Democratic Vistas, and Passage to India; all are dated 1871.


23 January: WW suffers a stroke, debilitating his left arm and leg. He intends to stay temporarily with his brother George in Camden, NJ; he occupies the rooms of his mother, who has recently died.


A second stroke affects the right side of WW's body.


On the American Centennial, a special commemorative edition of Leaves of Grass is published, as well as the collection Two Rivulets.


Yet another edition of Leaves of Grass is published, this time in Boston.


The district attorney in Boston threatens to prosecute WW's Boston publisher unless certain "obscene" sections of Leaves of Grass are edited out. WW finds a publisher in Philadelphia who is willing to publish and distribute the unexpurgated book.


April 14: WW appears on stage in New York to give a lecture on President Lincoln. Among the celebrities in attendance are writer Mark Twain, author and future secretary of state John Hay, U.S. Army commander William Tecumseh Sherman and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.


November Boughs is published. The poems in this collection will later be appended to printings of Leaves of Grass.


Realizing he has just a little more time to consolidate his legacy, WW revises his signature work one last time by adding some "annexes" to his 1881 edition. The final version of Leaves of Grass is also known as the "death-bed edition."


26 March: WW dies and is buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey.


Word over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun, and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men; go freely with the powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and mothers, of families: read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life: re-examine all you have been told at school or church, or in any books, and dismiss whatever insults your soul.