Walt Whitman’s Trunk

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Kevin McMullen
Kenneth M. Price
Stefan Schöberlein


Whitman is often thought of as a chaotic creator, leaving behind an ocean of messy manuscripts, flimsy scraps, scribbled notes, and endless clippings. Nonetheless, this essay argues, storage of his manuscripts and previously printed work was a pressing concern for Whitman in his early and mid-career, occupying his mind even during major life crises. Importantly, he wasn’t concerned merely with preserving a bibliographic record but with maintaining a resource for future work. Whitman developed a means of accessing his past writings in a mobile form — a trunk as both an actual object and symbol — as he relocated frequently from place to place. This article presents newly identified, almost word for word, borrowings in the 1860–1861 “Brooklyniana” series, taken from his 1849–1850 “Traveling Bachelor” series. It connects these new findings to recently identified reviews from the late 1840s appearing almost verbatim in Whitman-edited papers hundreds of miles apart. Framing the “trunk” as both a historical, physical storage medium and an icon of archival practice on the move, “Whitman’s Trunk” proposes a new reading of Whitman as a meticulous record keeper and careful practitioner of nineteenth-century copy & paste authorship.


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