Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2003 Issue

The Better Angel<br>By Roy Morris, Jr.

Whitman1

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Reviewed by Bruce McKinney

If you like easy answers or are averse to reading there are links at the top of this page to get you quickly to the exits. This is for those who read, are interested in history and can appreciate a complicated story. This is a two page discussion of an exceptional book, The Better Angel, by Roy Morris. It was printed in 2000 and is available in bookstores and online. It is the story of Walt Whitman in the years 1855 to 1865 and focuses on his experiences during the Civil War.

For those who don’t remember Walt Whitman was a poet perhaps best remembered for his very thin volume Leaves of Grass that was first self-published in 1855. In it he wrote “I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there.” Ten years later it would be true of his Civil War experience and he would become for many its voice, its impression, its memory.

Walt Whitman was, by every measure, a towering intellect. He was, before the war, the editor of the Boston Eagle. He corresponded with Thoreau and later enjoyed a close, if platonic, relationship with John Burroughs. He was also a bohemian and gay.

The outbreak of war in 1861 found him forty-two years old in an era when fifty was old. He was a Union man but did not hate the south or southerners. For him the union was the north and south together, not simply one side. That year, in New York, he wrote a series of articles for the New York Leader in which he describes patients in a local hospital. “There they are, many pining and wasting week after week with painful and incurable diseases – burning fevers, racking rheumatism, erysipelas, palsy, consumption, pneumonia, and all the long list; many brought in from sudden accidents, resulting in amputation, often followed by death.” And these aren’t the victims of war but rather only the debris of daily New York life. The war in the beginning was like opportunistic infection, local, and well to the south.

In time Walt Whitman took the train to Washington and into the penumbra of war if not to the front lines themselves. There he would find a place for himself in the hospitals where the wounded and often dying were brought. He was a naturally empathetic man, not a warrior, and he found his natural place ministering to the hopeful, the uncertain and the dying.

Outside of one hospital he saw “a heap of feet, legs, arms, and human fragments, cut, bloody, black and blue, swelled and sickening.” And Lincoln, reacting to the incompetence of General Ambrose Burnside, at that time, in private said, “If there is a worse place than Hell I am in it.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.

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