[LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, President]. WHITMAN, WALT. Autograph manuscript pocket notebook, comprising about 250 words, [New York, 15 April 1865]. 8 pages, written in pen and ink on 8 rectos of a 42-page notebook (handmade by Whitman by folding and cutting several sheets of lined stationery and securing them in the center fold with a thick straight pin, now replaced by string), protected in a later plain cloth covers and enclosed in a modern custom-made green cloth protective slipcase, [With:] a previous custom-made half blue morocco slipcase. Fine.
WHITMAN'S FIRST-HAND DESCRIPTION OF NEW YORK CITY ON THE DAY OF LINCOLN'S DEATH "THE TRAGEDY OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS HAS RISEN TO ITS CLIMAX"
In March, Whitman had attended Lincoln's inauguration and the tumultuous public reception in the East Room of the White House that evening. In April, the poet had briefly returned to Brooklyn, New York from Washington when the city's church bells began to toll to announce Lincoln's death. "Walt and his mother read the papers in silence over their untouched breakfast, and then he crossed over to Manhattan and walked up Broadway past shuttered stores hung with black" (J. Kaplan, Walt Whitman, p.302). The present notebook, records Whitman's impressions of the mood of the populace and his own stront emotions in the wake of the shooting and death of the President. In it, the poet scrawled notes during his walk through the city of mourners: "The strange events...between 4 and 5 in the afternoon I cross'd the river from Brooklyn & took a walk up Broadway -- the scene was solemn & most eloquent - I had so often seen Broadway on great gala days, tumultuous overwhelming shows of pride & oceanic profusion of ornamentation & deck'd with rich colors jubilant show crowds & the music of a hundred bands with marches & opera airs - or at night with processions bearing countless torches & transparencies & gay lanterns cover the houses. [This day] The stores were shut, & no business transacted, hardly no pleasure vehicles, & hardly a cart - only the heavy rumbling bass of the heavy Broadway stages incessently rolling..." On page 6 he lists "words to describe the weather: sulky, leaden and dripping continuously moist tears..."
"In this death the tragedy of the last five years has risen to its climax. The blood of Abraham Lincoln was permitted by the [breaks off]...Spiral windings of black & white around the columns...The mighty crowds at 6'o'clock wending their way home - the crowds around the bul[l]etin boards..." On the last page, Whitman adds: "When a great event happens, or some signal solemn thing spreads out among the people it is curious to go forth and wander awile in the public ways."
The death of Abraham Lincoln was the inspiration for two well-known poems by Whitman, "O Captain, my Captain!" (one of his few poems to be reprinted during his life) and "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloomed"; he also prepared and delivered in 1879 a lecture on the significance of Lincoln's death.
1. Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke of Ontario, Canada (sale, AAA/Anderson Galleries, 16 April 1936, lot 563).
2. Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 28 April 1982, lot 355).
3. Property of Miss Frances H. Jones (sale, Christie's New York, 9 December 1994, lot 107).
4. The present owner.