Walt Whitman suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed in 1873. By 1888, he was very frail and in ill health. He continued to work on his most famous work, Leaves of Grass, publishing his “complete” version in 1891.
But in 1888, having had another physical setback, he was working on a new collection of prose and poetry called November Boughs. The volume was published that same year with the publisher securing the rights to print further copies in 1888, 1889, and 1890, for a royalty fee of 12 cents per copy sold.
Of the one hundred and forty pages, there is a long preface called “A Backward Glance O’er Traveled Roads,” a combination of two articles Whitman had published in 1884 and 1887. It contains a retrospective on his literary theories and practices. He also admits that he was not accepted in his lifetime, but that he hopes for future recognition.
“Sands at Seventy” is a collection of approximately 60 short poems. And while they lack the fire and music of his early work, he included these poems in his final Leaves of Grass, noting their enviable self-knowledge.
The collected prose pieces summarize many of Whitman’s themes and concerns. Central is his passion for democracy and the strength and importance of the common man. He even holds forth on William Shakespeare, taking the stand that “only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works—works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.”
There is much more included in these 140 pages. The Rare Book Room’s copy was a gift in memory of Dr. Roger Millhiser, and published in 1888. Come by and take a look.