Tag Archives: walt whitman

Walt Whitman, 1869, from the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, box III-6C (Saunders 29); Bruce Springsteen, on the cover of the album Born to Run, 1975.

Tramps Like Us: Springsteen and Whitman

You may have heard the news: a working draft of one of the iconic songs in American music, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” will be displayed in Perkins Library on May 8-11, and then here in the Rubenstein Library from May 12-June 27.  While at the Rubenstein, Springsteen’s draft, owned by Floyd Bradley, will be in the very good company of one of the largest collections of manuscripts by another favorite son of New Jersey, Walt Whitman, in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana.

Walt Whitman, 1869, from the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, box III-6C (Saunders 29); Bruce Springsteen, on the cover of the album Born to Run, 1975.
Walt Whitman, 1869, from the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, box III-6C (Saunders 29), by M. P. Rice; Bruce Springsteen, on the cover of the album Born to Run, 1975, by Eric Meola.

Both Whitman and Springsteen felt and expressed a deep connection with working-class Americans.  After a transient childhood, Whitman worked as a journeyman printer before becoming the “Good Gray Poet”; Springsteen’s mother famously took out a loan to buy him a guitar when he turned sixteen, and years of honing his musical craft at small venues for low pay preceded the breakthrough of “The Boss.”

The working draft of “Born to Run” includes many passages that were changed or excised from the final lyrics, but the chorus “tramps like us, baby we were born to run” is already in place.

The chorus of "Born to Run" in the working draft. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
The chorus of “Born to Run” in the working draft. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

“Tramps,” or homeless itinerants looking for steady work and a place to live, became a particular concern in the United States (and for Whitman) during and after the “long depression” of the 1870s.  Whitman wrote about this phenomenon in many different contexts, perhaps most memorably in a fragment entitled “The Tramp and Strike Questions.”  In a sentence that gets to the core of an element of “Born to Run” and other Springsteen songs, Whitman writes there: “Curious as it may seem, it is in what are call’d the poorest, lowest characters you will sometimes, nay generally, find glints of the most sublime virtues, eligibilities, heroisms.” A volume in the Trent Collection, given by Whitman the title “Excerpts &c Strike & Tramp Question,” contains manuscripts and newspaper stories annotated by Whitman in preparation for a lecture on the topic, which was never delivered.

Two prose fragments from "Excerpts &c Strike & Tramp Question," Trent Collection of Whitmaniana Box II-7B.
Two prose fragments from “Excerpts &c Strike & Tramp Question,” Trent Collection of Whitmaniana Box II-7B.

We’re excited to host the “Born to Run” draft, and please contact us if you’d like to take the chance to see this treasure of American culture alongside items in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana.

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.

Rachel Penniman working on one of the Trent Collection volumes.

In the Lab: Whitmaniana

Recently our next-door neighbors in the Digital Production Center (DPC) had a large project digitizing volumes of Walt Whitman manuscript material from the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana. The digital images are headed for the online Walt Whitman Archive, in part for a digitized collection of Whitman’s marginalia, the notations that he made in and about books and articles he read.

Bound volumes of manuscripts in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana.
Bound volumes of manuscripts in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana.

Many of the items were small paper scraps mounted in beautifully bound albums, but the manner in which each item was adhered to the page made it impossible to see what was on the back. Some of the manuscript notes had been damaged by readers trying to lift them, even if they were blank on the reverse. It was decided that conservation would remove the items from their pages to allow them to be digitized front and back, and then we would reattach them to the album pages in a safer manner.

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Rachel Penniman working on one of the Trent Collection volumes.
Rachel Penniman working on one of the Trent Collection volumes.

I worked on this project with Rachel Penniman, the newest member of our conservation team, and I collaborated with Alex Marsh in DPC. For this project, Alex scanned 470 pages of material, many with multiple items glued to the pages. Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections in the Rubenstein Library, identified 103 items in 21 albums or boxes to be lifted from their pages.

Rachel and I used moisture to soften the adhesive, being careful to avoid damage to any of the inks. A few items were found to be too risky for removal because of sensitive inks or insoluble adhesive, but for the most part we were successful.

We enjoyed reading the items as we worked on them. Many appeared to be Whitman’s notes on themes for poems and little reminders to himself, some with drafts of lines and corrections, and others simply ideas with no elaboration. Our favorite said simply “Banjo poem.” (Did he ever write his proposed banjo poem?)

banjo page open After Alex digitized all the loose items in DPC, they came back to conservation to be reattached to their pages. Instead of adhering the items at the corners again, I hinged them with Japanese paper to allow them to be lifted safely by readers who want to see the backs.

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Post contributed by Grace White, Conservator for Special Collections, as part of our ongoing “In the Conservation Lab” series.

 

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A Birthday Present for Walt Whitman

ExtraIllFrontBoardresizedToday, 31 May 2013, is the 194th birthday of Walt Whitman.  The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana in the Rubenstein Library is one of the largest collections of Whitman’s manuscripts and printed works in the world.  Just in time to celebrate the Good Gray Poet’s birthday, a beautifully “wrapped” new addition to the collection is available for research.

From an otherwise unremarkable edition of Whitman’s Prose Works, the copy newly arrived at the Library was lavishly extra-illustrated and expanded into two leather-bound volumes by an early owner, with the addition of 26 autograph letters and manuscripts and one hundred portraits and views.  Extra-illustration, also known as Grangerization, involves the addition by a collector of separately produced items such as portraits and manuscripts to a printed text.  Controversial today because it involves dismantling and transforming books, the practice was quite popular in the nineteenth century; this example is from the early twentieth century, perhaps the 1920s.

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Added title page and frontispiece etching of Whitman in Prose Works.

Many of the added items are of interest, including a manuscript slave deed and letters by Whitman friends and notables such as John Burroughs, John Swinton, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and General William T. Sherman.  Most importantly for Whitman scholars, the first volume contains a page of Whitman’s manuscript notes on the Quaker preacher Elias Hicks.   The manuscript had fallen into three pieces due to being folded into the binding; thanks to the work of Conservator for Special Collections Erin Hammeke, it has been repaired and remounted.

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While we cannot say with certainty who created these extra-illustrated volumes, the second volume bears the bookplate of Mary Young Moore, a Papal countess for whom a high school on Staten Island, New York is named.  Given the connections of both Whitman and Hicks to New York City, this manuscript fragment may have especially appealed to Countess Moore.

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections, Rubenstein Library.

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Week 4 is done!

We only have 2 weeks of moving left, thank goodness. We’re starting to see some results after all this hard work. We have been striving to send 3 full trucks to LSC everyday – that is 54-60 of these big blue carts per day!

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Big Blues on the way to the Library Service Center.

We are also almost totally done moving collections into swing space. This week, among other things, we moved the rest of our vault items. This was fun, since it meant we got to visit with our beloved Trent Collection of Whitmaniana as it traveled through the library to its new home.

Our Curator of Collections and some bound Walt Whitman manuscripts.
Our Curator of Collections and some bound Walt Whitman manuscripts.