Photos and Engravings of Walt Whitman
Note: These images and their descriptions are borrowed from the much larger collection at the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive
1848. Photographer unknown. Courtesy Walt Whitman House,
Camden, New Jersey. This daguerreotype was made in New Orleans, during Whitman's residence
there between February and May, 1848, while he worked on the New Orleans Crescent.
July, 1854. Steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer of
daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison (original daguerreotype lost). Courtesy of the Bayley
Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University. Walt Whitman said, "The worst thing about this
is, that I look so damned flamboyant--as if I was hurling bolts at somebody--full of mad
oaths--saying defiantly, to hell with you!" He also worried about the portrait
because "Many people think the dominant quality in Harrison's picture is its
sadness," but he nevertheless liked the portrait "because it is natural, honest,
easy: as spontaneous as you are, as I am, this instant, as we talk together." Whitman
guessed that at the time of this portrait he weighed "about a hundred and sixty-five
or thereabouts: I formerly lacked in flesh, though I was not thin. . . ." The
engraving appeared in the 1855 and 1856 editions of Leaves of Grass, then again
in the 1876 and 1881-1882 (and following) editions, as well as--in a cropped version--in
William Michael Rossetti's 1869 British edition of Walt Whitman's poems. In reprinting it
in the 1881 edition, Whitman insisted on its facing "Song of Myself" because the
portrait "is involved as part of the poem." Some of Whitman's friends did not
share his enthusiasm for the image; William Sloane Kennedy, for example, hoped "that
this repulsive, loaferish portrait, with its sensual mouth, can be dropped from future
editions, or be accompanied by other and better ones that show the mature man, and not
merely the defiant young revolter of thirty-seven, with a very large chip on his shoulder,
no suspenders to his trousers, and his hat very much on one side." Whitman recalled
how, when the 1855 Leaves of Grass came out, the portrait "was much
hatchelled by the fellows at the time--war was waged on it: it passed through a great fire
of criticism." William O'Connor liked it, Whitman said, "because of its
portrayal of the proletarian--the carpenter, builder, mason, mechanic," but Whitman
didn't share his view.
About 1862. Mathew Brady, New York. Courtesy Alderman Library,
University of Virginia. Whitman described this photo as having "a sort of Moses in
the burning bush look." Talking about this photo in 1888, Whitman said,
"Somebody used to say I sometimes wore the face of a man who was sorry for the world.
Is this my sorry face? I am not sorry--I am glad--for the world." "This picture
was much better when it was taken--it has faded out," Whitman noted; "I always
rather favored it." In an 1863 notebook, Whitman records receiving photos from Brady.
About 1866. Mathew Brady, Washington. Courtesy Ohio Wesleyan University,
Bayley Collection. Whitman recalled that this was one of Anne Gilchrist's favorite photos,
though Whitman worried about "a suspicion of theatricality in it." "I have
no great admiration for the picture myself," Whitman noted; "it is one of many,
only--not many in one: the sort of picture useful in totaling a man but not a total in
itself." The photo, Whitman said, "is not permanent--will not last: it is too
1869? Photographer unknown: Oscar Lion Collection, New York Public
Library, ascribes it to E. F. Hunt, Camden, NJ, but this seems too early for a Camden
photo. Courtesy Gay Wilson Allen. The notebook referred to in #24 above also
contains notes for a poem about a photograph Whitman refers to as "Tarisse's
head," and in Whitman's 1867-1875 address notebook, he records a "Mr. Leybold J.
C. Tarisse 424 Penn av. bet 4th & 6th sts." In an 1869 Washington Chronicle
article, Whitman, describing the best photographs of himself, noted that "Mssrs.
Seybold & Tarisse, on the Avenue, below Sixth, have a good head, just taken, very
strong in shade and light." The notes for the poem suggest this might be the portrait
being described: "From Shadows, deep & dark I peer Out." William Kurtz was a
master of shadow in his portraits, which gained a reputation of being in the
"Rembrandt style." Saunders notes that Whitman did not care for this photo
because it was tinted (Whitman disapproved of retouching negatives, since the
"photograph has this advantage: it lets nature have its way").
1871. Henry Ulke and Brothers, Washington, D.C. Courtesy Ohio
Wesleyan University, Bayley Collection. Whitman spoke of people's reaction to this photo,
"Some of them say my face there has a rogue in it. [William] O'Connor called it my
sea-captain face. Some newspaper got hold of a copy of the photograph and said it bore out
the notion that Walt Whitman was a sensualist. I offered one to a woman in Washington. She
said she'd rather have a picture that had more love in it. It's a little rough and tumble,
but it's not a face I could hate."
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