An Elite yet Anonymous Leaves of Grass

Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was published for a third time in 1860 by Thayer and Eldridge. The aesthetics of the edition are telling of the audience and priorities of Whitman and the publishers. For this assignment I have focused on the  title page of the book. Though the binding is plane and without decoration, there is ornament around the title “Leaves of Grass.” The lines almost look like they would be found on a magician or carnival’s advertisement. Though they recall the natural-looking ornamentation on the covers of earlier editions, there is a “magical” quality to this detailing rather than natural. It is as if this edition is the formal, fancy version of the previous publications; this version is the more ornate version of this natural poem. This indicates a certain active attempt to appeal to buyers apart from making the volume small and affordable. It at least indicates that the publishers hoped to draw in an audience that believed their publishing to be of a certain ornate, perhaps “magical” quality.

Title page. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860.

The page has very few words other than the title, all of which are printed in a typeface less standard than that of the title pages in previous editions of Leaves of Grass. This indicates the time and money that went into this page to again create this illusion of a certain standard of quality in this version. Because there are very few words and they are printed in a large font, there is a strong emphasis on what the page reads. Whitman’s name appears no where on the page despite the fact Whitman had a lot to do with the layout and design of the publication. Perhaps he wanted to give credit and thanks to his publishers or the publishers instructed him to make their names bold. Either way, the emphasis on the publishers is interesting because Thayer and Eldridge were just starting up and were not by any means successful or prestigious at the time of this publication. This is probably why the font and size of their names draws so much attention to them; they were  literally making a name for themselves by publishing Whitman. In a way, this title page is more about who published the book than what the book contains.

The last note I will make about this title page is the inclusion of the year in two different ways: the age of the United States and the actual year from the calendar. This suggests that, in line with Whitman’s personal beliefs and feelings, the priority is an audience of Americans who care about America. Once again, as Whitman is known to have had a large hand in the design of this book, it is no wonder that the United States’ name appears on the very first page across from his portrait, the American man.


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