Life & Letters

Chronology of Whitman's Life


31 May, Walter Whitman born at West Hills, Huntington Township, New York, the second child of Walter Whitman, house builder, and Louisa Van Velsor, both descendants of early settlers on Long Island. Seven other Whitman children survive infancy: Jesse (1818–1870), Mary Elizabeth (1821–1899), Hannah Louisa (1823–1908); Andrew Jackson (1827–1863); George Washington (1829–1901); Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890); and Edward (1835—1892).


27 May, Whitman family moves to Brooklyn expecting housing boom.


4 July, Marquis de Lafayette visits Brooklyn and, according to Whitman's recollection, embraces him.


Attends public school in Brooklyn. Family frequently relocates within city.


Quits school; works as an office boy for lawyer, doctor.


Learns printing trade as apprentice for Long Island Patriot.


Summer 1832, works at Worthington's printing house. Fall 1832 to May 1835, works as compositor on Long Island Star. 1833, Whitman family moves back to Long Island.


Works as a printer in New York but is unemployed after a great fire in printing district, 12 August 1836.


Teaches school on Long Island at East Norwich, Hempstead, Babylon, Long Swamp, and Smithtown.


Edits weekly newspaper, Long Islander, Huntington; works on Long Island Democrat, Jamaica.


Fall 1840, campaigns for Martin Van Buren; teaches school on Long Island at Trimming Square, Woodbury, Dix Hills, and Whitestone.


May, moves to New York City; works as a compositor for The New World. July, addresses Democratic Party rally in City Hall Park. August, publishes "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" in Democratic Review.


November, Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate published as an extra to The New World.


Works briefly for the Aurora, Evening Tattler, Statesman, Democrat and Mirror and contributes to other papers in New York City.


August 1845, returns to Brooklyn; works for Brooklyn Evening Star until March 1846.


March 1846 to January 1848, edits Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Attends opera regularly.


January, quits (or is fired) from Daily Eagle. February, goes to New Orleans with brother Jeff to edit Daily Crescent. May, resigns position and returns to Brooklyn via Mississippi and Great Lakes.


9 September 1848, first issue of Brooklyn Weekly Freeman, a "free-soil" newspaper founded and edited by Whitman; office burns after first issue. Spring Freeman becomes a daily; Whitman edits until 11 September 1849. July, examined by phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler.


Operates job-printing office, bookstore, and house building business; does freelance journalism. 31 March 1851, addresses Brooklyn Art Union; writes "Pictures" in 1853.


15 May, takes out copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, containing twelve poems and a preface. Leaves is printed by the Rome brothers in Brooklyn during first week of July. Father dies on 11 July. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes to poet on 21 July: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career."


November 1855 to August 1856 writes for Life Illustrated; writes a political tract, "The Eighteenth Presidency!" Between August and September 1856, phrenologists Fowler and Wells publish second edition of Leaves of Grass, containing thirty-two poems, Emerson's letter, and an open letter by Whitman in reply to Emerson. November, visited by Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott in Brooklyn.


Spring 1857 to Summer 1859, edits Brooklyn Daily Times; unemployed during the winter of 1859–1860; frequents Pfaff's restaurant, a center of New York's literary bohemia.


March, goes to Boston to oversee third edition of Leaves of Grass, published by Thayer and Eldridge. Urged by Emerson to "expurgate" the "Children of Adam" poems.


12 April 1861, the Civil War begins; Whitman's brother George enlists. Writes freelance journalism; visits the sick and injured at New York Hospital. December 1862, goes to Virginia where he learns that George has been wounded at Fredricksburg; remains in camp two weeks.


Moves to Washington, D.C.; visits military hospitals and supports himself as part-time clerk in Army Paymaster's Office. Becomes friends with William D. O'Connor and John Burroughs. December 1863, brother Andrew dies of tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism. June 1864, returns to Brooklyn for six months on sick leave. 5 December 1864, has brother Jesse committed to King's County Lunatic Asylum.


Returns to Washington after 24 January appointment to clerkship in Indian Bureau of Department of the Interior. 4 March, attends Lincoln's second inauguration. 14 April, Lincoln assassinated. May, begins printing Drum-Taps (New York), but suspends printing to add a sequel commemorating Lincoln. 30 June, discharged from position by Secretary James Harlan, supposedly because of authorship of obscene poetry. Is transferred to a clerkship in Attorney General's Office. Summer, writes "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain!" October, publishes Drum-Taps and Sequel (Washington). Begins relationship with Peter Doyle, an eighteen-year old Confederate horse-car conductor, in Washington.


O'Connor publishes The Good Gray Poet (New York: Bunce and Huntington), a defense co-written by Whitman, in response to the poet's firing by Harlan.


John Burroughs supports Whitman in Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (New York: American News Company). 6 July, William Michael Rossetti publishes an appreciation of "Walt Whitman's Poems" in the London Chronicle. Fourth edition of Leaves of Grass printed in New York; publishes "Democracy," first part of Democratic Vistas, in December in the Galaxy.


Poems of Walt Whitman, selected and edited by Rossetti, published in London (John Camden Hotten, publisher). "Personalism," second part of Democratic Vistas, published in the May Galaxy.


Develops substantial following in England; Anne Gilchrist and, about this time, Edward Carpenter read Rossetti edition and are attracted to Whitman.


Suffers depression; prints fifth edition of Leaves of Grass, and Democratic Vistas and Passage to India, all in Washington D.C., and dated 1871. May, Anne Gilchrist publishes "An Englishwoman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" in The Radical, Boston.


Algernon Charles Swinburne greets Whitman in Songs Before Sunrise; Alfred, Lord Tennyson and John Addington Symonds send affectionate letters. Anne Gilchrist writes a marriage proposal; Whitman politely declines (3 November). Rudolph Schmidt translates Democratic Vistas into Danish. 7 September, Whitman reads After All, Not to Create Only at American Institute Exhibition in New York City (published in Boston by Roberts Brothers).


1 June, Thérèse Bentzon (Mme. Blanc) publishes critical article on Whitman in Revue des Deux Mondes. 26 June, reads "As A Strong Bird on Pinions Free" at Dartmouth College commencement (published in Washington, D.C.). Succumbs to heat prostration; quarrels with O'Connor; writes will.


23 January, suffers paralytic stroke. Mother dies on 23 May. "Song of the Universal" read at Tufts College commencement by proxy. June, Whitman leaves Washington and moves in with his brother George in Camden, New Jersey.


12 July, receives adulatory letter from Carpenter. Midsummer, discharged from his position in Washington. Publishes "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus" in Harper's Magazine.


Publishes "Author's" or "Centennial" edition of Leaves of Grass and Two Rivulets, a matched set of volumes, and Memoranda During the War (all in Camden, New Jersey); and "Walt Whitman's Actual American Position" in West Jersey Press (26 January), an unsigned article that leads to an international controversy about America's neglect of Whitman. Befriends Harry Stafford, a printers' employee; frequently visits the Stafford family farm at Timber Creek. September, Anne Gilchrist visits the United States with her children, rents a house, and hopes to marry Whitman.


28 January, lectures on Thomas Paine in Philadelphia. Painted by George W. Waters in New York. May, Edward Carpenter visits Whitman in Camden; Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke visits Whitman and becomes a close friend. Whitman visits Burroughs in Esopus, New York, with Harry Stafford.


Too sick to give planned lecture on "The Death of Abraham Lincoln" in spring. June, visits J.H. Johnston and John Burroughs in New York.


14 April, gives first Lincoln lecture in New York. Anne Gilchrist returns to England. September, travels west as far as Colorado; falls ill, and stays with brother Jeff in St. Louis.


April, gives Lincoln lecture in Philadelphia. January, returns to Camden. June to October, travels in Canada and visits Bucke in London, Ontario.


15 April, gives Lincoln lecture in Boston. August to October, visits Boston to supervise a new edition of Leaves of Grass published by James R. Osgood containing the final arrangement of 293 poems. Visits Emerson in Concord.


January, Oscar Wilde visits Whitman in Camden. April, Osgood withdraws edition of Leaves of Grass on complaint of Boston District Attorney. Rees Welsh (later David McKay) reprints Osgood edition in Philadelphia and issues Specimen Days and Collect. Publicity of Boston "suppression" of Whitman causes unprecedented boom in sales of Leaves of Grass. Becomes friends with Pearsall Smith, wealthy Philadelphia glass merchant and prominent Quaker.


McKay publishes Bucke's Walt Whitman a biography written with contributions from Whitman.


March, buys house at 328 Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, with royalties from McKay edition of Leaves of Grass. June, Carpenter visits a second time. Becomes friends with Horace Traubel, Thomas Harned, Talcott Williams, Thomas Donaldson, and Robert Ingersoll.


July, has heat stroke. Friends, headed by Donaldson, present him with horse and buggy.


Gives Lincoln lecture in Elkton, Maryland; Camden; Philadelphia; and Haddonfield, New Jersey. Pall Mall Gazette promotes fund which presents Whitman with eighty pounds. Boston supporters send $800 for purchase of summer cottage on Timber Creek (never built).


14 April, Lincoln lecture in New York City at Madison Square Theater attracts many notables and nets $600, followed by reception at Westminster Hotel. Sculptured by Sidney Morse; painted by Herbert Gilchrist, J.W. Alexander, and Thomas Eakins.


June, suffers another paralytic stroke followed by severe illness. Makes a new will naming Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and Horace Traubel as literary executors. Publishes November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay).


Seventieth birthday party commemorated in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman (ed. Horace Traubel. Philadelphia: David McKay).


April, delivers Lincoln lecture for the last time, Philadelphia. 19 August, writes to John Addington Symonds; declares Symond's homosexual interpretation of "Calamus" poems "damnable" and claims to have fathered six illegitimate children. October, Whitman contracts to have $4,000 tomb built for himself in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.


Publishes Good-bye My Fancy and Deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass (both published by McKay, dated 1892). Prepares Complete Prose Works (McKay, 1892). Last birthday dinner at Mickle Street. December, catches pneumonia.


26 March, dies at Mickle Street; 30 March, buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

William A. Pannapacker
Reproduced from J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), by permission.


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