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banned in Boston

WHITMAN, WALT. Leaves of Grass

Boston: Osgood, 1881-82

Original mustard cloth. Second state of title-page with “-82” not “-2” in date. Original mustard cloth. Light fraying to spine ends. Very good.

First printing of the 7th edition of Leaves of Grass

James Osgood was successor to Ticknor and Reed, the great Boston publisher that had published Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, and the other leading New England authors of the mid-19th century. When Osgood approached Whitman to bring out a new edition of Leaves of Grass, Whitman must have welcomed the mainstream approbation. Still, he reminded Osgood that “the old pieces, the sexuality ones, about which the original row was started & kept up so long, are all remained, & must go in the same as ever.” Osgood proceeded with publication, but on 1 May 1882, the Massachusetts District Attorney labeled Leaves of Grass “obscene” and asked for its “withdrawal … from circulation” (Myerson).

Osgood asked Whitman to make the necessary changes, and the poet agreed to change phrases but refused to delete two entire poems, “A Woman Waits for Me” and “Ode to a Common Prostitute.” “On 10 April Osgood wrote again to say that ‘there seems no alternative for us but to decline to further circulate the book.’ Whitman received the plates, portraits, and dies as well as about 225 copies in sheets and was paid $100 in cash” (Lilly Library).

On the basis of the fame of being “banned in Boston,” the book was quickly taken up by David McKay of the firm Rees Welsh & Co. in Philadelphia, where it achieved strong sales. In the coming years Whitman continued to add “annexes”to Leaves of Grass, but with the Osgood-McKay edition, it had reached essentially its final form.

Myerson A 2.7.a1.