Major American poet’s rare text featured in Digital Library
Welcome to the inaugural Compass column Blue Electrode, which will showcase an item recently digitized and displayed in the Villanova University Digital Library. This first column highlights a very special title, a book signed by Walt Whitman. A family heirloom belonging to Andrew Nagy, Falvey’s technology development specialist, its digital copy was donated to the Digital Library by Nagy.
According to Andrew Nagy:
Walt Whitman published Memoranda During the War in the latter part of 1875. It is a record of his dedication to his comrades during the Civil War a decade earlier. Although we are uncertain how the book actually came into our family's possession, through some research we discovered that it was given to a distant relative as a gift.
When my grandmother cleaned out her attic ten years ago, she gave the book to my father, an amateur history buff. Attempting to verify the book’s publication history, he contacted Ed Folsom, a professor of American literature at the University of Iowa and a well-known Whitman scholar.
Dr. Folsom told my father that Whitman self-published the book and had 1000 copies produced, but only 750 were bound. Of the 250 unbound copies, Whitman inserted 100 into his publication, Two Rivulets (compiled as the second volume of the Centennial edition published for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia). With the remaining copies, he then made a second run of the book, and these became known as the “Remembrance Copy,” one of which is owned by our family.
The book is signed to a “Miss E. N. Morris,” who is unknown to our family and who probably purchased the book directly from Whitman.
What makes this Remembrance copy special are the hand-written edits scribbled in the book’s margins. On page 47, for example, Whitman describes the evening at Ford’s Theatre when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. In our copy, the word “written” is changed to read “witless” to characterize the play produced that evening. This edit is fairly rare.
You may also notice that the cover of the book reads "Memoranda of the War," instead of the official title of the book, making this copy even more unique.
To see Memoranda During the War in its entirety, please view it online in the Villanova University Digital Library. Our family has donated a digital copy for all to enjoy.
(For more information, see Basler, Roy P., ed. Walt Whitman's Memoranda During the War [&] Death of Abraham Lincoln. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1962.)