Walter Whitman's "Blue Book": Fired for Cause

Filled with the poet's manuscript annotations and alterations throughout, this famous copy of the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860-61) is today known as the "œBlue Book" because of its dark blue wrappers (covers). In preparation for the fourth edition, Whitman left scarcely a page of the text untouched, deleting material, adding new poems and lines, changing lines, and altering the order of the poems. One of the great treasures of The New York Public Library's Oscar Lion Collection of Whitman and Whitmaniana, this is also the volume that cost Whitman his government job in 1865.

In a now legendary brouhaha, Whitman was dismissed from his clerkship in the Department of the Interior in June 1865 by the department's priggish secretary, James Harlan, who had resolved to dismiss employees showing poor "moral character." Harlan made the mistake, considering his sensibilities, of leafing through Whitman's personal copy of Leaves of Grass, which the poet kept in his desk; horrified and angered by what he read, Harlan had Whitman fired on the spot. Harlan's letter of dismissal (also in the Lion Collection), dated June 30, 1865, and written in a beautiful cursive, states simply:

The services of Walter Whitman of New York as a Clerk in the Indian Office will be dispensed with from and after this date.
Fortunately, influential friends of the poet rode to the rescue, and Whitman quickly secured "” the next day, in fact "” an even more favorable position (fewer hours) in the Attorney General's office.


Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass, with the author's autograph emendations and with manuscript pages affixed to several leaves of text [the "Blue Book"]. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860-61 (2nd issue).
The New York Public Library, Rare Book Division, Oscar Lion Collection.


More Images from Whitman's "Blue Book"

Related Publication: I Am with You: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855-2005)

Collection Guide: Walt Whitman Manuscripts

About the Rare Book Division

Library Catalog Record: Facsimile Edition of Whitman's "Blue Book"

Portrait of Whitman: The "Christ Likeness"