The Watkinson Library, which contains Trinity’s rare books and archives, has a “new” treasure on loan–a first edition (1855) of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. According to Head Curator Richard Ring, Whitman paid for its publication and oversaw all the details of the book’s composition and printing (setting some of the type himself), as well as its distribution and reception. “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” Ralph Waldo Emerson now-famously wrote in a private letter to Whitman, and indeed Leaves of Grass has since been called America’s second Declaration of Independence, one that, according to one scholar, “ushered in a new era in American letters, describing specifically American experiences in a distinctly American idiom.”
Ring hopes to make the first edition a permanent part of the Watkinson’s collection and has announced an initiative to raise funds to acquire the Whitman volume, considered one of the greatest rarities of American literature. The copy is currently on loan from a well-respected antiquarian book firm in New York City and is on display in the Watkinson.
Trinity events related to the first edition included a poster sale during Family Weekend and an open-mic reading of “Song of Myself” by faculty and students on November 14, both held at Vernon Social. In partnership with local letterpress shop Hartford Prints!, the Watkinson worked with Artist-in-Residence Clare Rossini’s first-year seminar, “The Practice of Poetry,” to enable students to set by hand and print a few lines from “Song of Myself.” Hartford Prints! also has created an art print inspired by the book, and copies are for sale. Finally, a public lecture–“I pass so poorly with paper and types: Walt Whitman’s First 795 Tries at Leaves of Grass,” by Dr. Ed Folsom, the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at The University of Iowa and a world-renowned authority on Whitman–was set for February 20 in the library.
For more details, e-mail Ring at firstname.lastname@example.org.