Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Rome Brothers, The
Author:
Whitt, Jan
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Because he was a printer and editor, Walt Whitman placed high demands on those who worked in publishing, and the production of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass was no exception. Just three year before, Whitman had competed for business with various printers in Brooklyn and had assessed their competence. For his prized manuscript, Whitman selected the Rome brothers. Immigrants from Scotland, brothers Andrew, James, and Thomas Rome ran a print shop known primarily for its legal publications. Andrew Rome had known Whitman since 1849, and the Rome family saw Whitman as someone who soon would make his mark on the world. 

When Whitman approached them in the spring of 1855, they happily agreed to print the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Letting Whitman supervise (and even set approximately ten pages of type), the brothers consulted with Whitman on all facets of the publication, including typefaces, ink, type of paper and layout. Whitman selected a typeface from Scotland. The twelve pages of the Preface were set in 10-point type; the 83 pages of poetry, in 12-point type. The printers provided him with 800 copies in quarto format, and then the sheets were sent to an engraver and binder. 

In addition, the Rome brothers provided access to a comfortable, small print shop, similar to the one where Whitman had done his apprenticeship years before. Most mornings that spring Whitman appeared at the shop, read the New York Tribune, and settled in to work on page proofs. While there he also wrote a prose piece about the role of the poet and poetry in American life and included the essay at the beginning of the volume. 

In 1858-1859 the Rome brothers set Whitman's new poems in type and gave him copies for prospective publishers of a new and enlarged edition of Leaves of Grass

Bibliography 

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 

Greenspan, Ezra. Walt Whitman and the American Reader. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. 

Rubin, Joseph Jay. The Historic Whitman. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1973. 

Stovall, Floyd. The Foreground of "Leaves of Grass." Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1974. 


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