Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy at The Morgan Library & Museum, June 7 – September 15, 2019

In celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, the Morgan Library & Museum exhibits the work of the beloved American poet. In a notebook in 1859, Whitman wrote, “Comrades! I am the bard of Democracy,” and over his 73 years (1819–1892) he made good on that claim. As he bore witness to the rise of New York City, the Civil War and other major transformations in American life, Whitman tried to reconcile the famous contradictions of this country through his inclusivity and his prolific body of work. The author of one of the most celebrated texts of American literature—Leaves of Grass (1855)—came from humble origins in Long Island and Brooklyn but eventually earned a global audience that has never stopped growing. Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy traces the development of his writing and influence, from his early days producing local journalism and sensational fiction to his later years writing the visionary poems that would revitalize American letters.” — The Morgan Library & Museum

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), O Captain! my captain! April 27, 1890, autograph manuscript. The Morgan Library & Museum, MA 1212.1. Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2012.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), Walt Whitman’s Books, broadside advertisement printed on linen, circa 1871. The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Charles E. Feinberg, 1959; PML 50638. Photography by Graham S Haber 2017.

Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896), Carte de visite photograph of Oscar Wilde, 1882. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Drue Heinz Fund, 2017; MA 8916. Photography by Janny Chiu, 2019.

Moses P. Rice and Sons?, Walt Whitman and his rebel soldier friend Pete Doyle, 1865, photograph; albumen print on card mount. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), An American Poet at Last!, self-review, Brooklyn, 1855. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

George Frank E. Pearsall (1841-1931), Walt Whitman, 1871, photographic print. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Draft of preface for Democratic Vistas, circa 1871, autograph manuscript. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Phillips & Taylor, Photograph of Walt Whitman, 1873. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman’s cardboard butterfly, 1850. Manuscript Division, Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers, Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Notebook with trial lines for Leaves of Grass, circa 1847-1854. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Notebook with trial lines for Leaves of Grass, circa 1847-1854. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Notebook with trial lines for Leaves of Grass, circa 1847-1854. The Library of Congress. Image provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“Walt Whitman’s poetry occupies a special place in American literature,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library and Museum. “He was a New Yorker in that he not only captured the spirit of his bustling, complex, and contradictory city, but he also carved out a career path for himself through his ambition and surprisingly proactive self-promotion. We are excited to offer more insight into his inspirations, his world, and the evolution of his dynamic voice.” 

“It was a joy to work with the Morgan on this comprehensive exhibit, and to see New York City all over again, through his eyes,” said Ted Widmer, guest curator and Distinguished Lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York. “It never stops moving and neither did he.” Widmer is also author of Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City and many other works of history. 

Images courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.