Prometheus Unbound

This volume, belonging to the Iowa Whitman Series, is identified as “the 150th Anniversary Facsimile Edition” of Leaves of Grass, third edition (1860).  Originally issued in 1855, at the author’s expense, the collection was revised and republished in 1856, 1860, 1867, 1871, 1881-82, and finally 1892.  The versions varied greatly in length and contents, as Whitman added numerous poems, while removing some and revising, retitling, regrouping, and otherwise modifying others.  The first edition contained only 12 poems, the second 32.  In 1860, he added 146 new ones.  Later editions are viewed as less masterful.  This 1860 version thus contains the poet’s most characteristic voice and delineates him most fully: the people’s bard, a prophet, sage, celebrant of the nation and its distinctive popular government—and the creator, on what turned out to be the eve of a horrible war, of a national imago by which, he dreamed, conflict might be avoided and a kind of democratic salvation brought about.

Though the font used for the table of contents is regrettably small, the rest of the 1860 typography may delight those who enjoy the appearance of an older book, especially the original title page, with its flowing cursive writing and the publisher’s imprint, “Boston, Thayer and Eldridge, Year 85 of the States, 1860-61.”  The structure of the long collection is noteworthy, with...

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