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Walt Whitman at the Lilly

The Rejected Deathbed Edition

Deathbed edition

Walt Whitman.  Leaves of Grass,  Including Sands at Seventy, 1st Annex, Goodbye my Fancy, 2nd Annex, A backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads and Portrait from life.  Philadelphia:  McKay, 1891. 

This is the final, privately produced edition of Leaves, sometimes referred to as the ninth edition.  The autograph on the title page and the inscription on the flyleaf in are n Traubel’s hand:  “Horace Traubel, Dec. 1891 cover rejected.”   Only five copies in this rejected binding are extant.  Anne Montgomerie Traubel allegedly led to Whitman’s displeasure with it by telling him that the cover reminded her of “Philadelphia brown stone front houses.” 

Whitman’s final book—his “deathbed” Leaves of Grass— is not really a new edition:  the unbound sheets left from an edition made in 1888 were hastily combined into presentation copies, so that Whitman would have a sense of completion before he died.  A hardbound volume was released later in  the spring of 1892 by McKay, but these makeshift books are truly Whitman’s last word.  The volume carries Whitman’s amended copyright notice on the verso of the title page:  “As there are now several editions of L. of G., different texts and dates, I wish to say that I prefer and recommend this present one, complete, for future printings, if there should be any; a copy and fac-simile, indeed, of the text of these 438 pages. The subsequent adjusting interval which is so important to form'd and launch'd work, books especially, has pass'd; and waiting till fully after that, I have given (pages 423–438) my concluding words,” a reference to “A Backward Glance, which now ends the volume, in a mood both retrospective (“ My Book and I—what a period we have presumed to span!”) and humbly anticipatory:  “the strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung!”