There’s a “golden age of discovery” going on in the scholarly world, and a whole generation of new scholars are unearthing literature and art from past ages using digital databases.
Hidden until now, and uncovered by a sleuth of a scholar, Zachary Turpin, a 33-year-old English doctoral student at the University of Houston, is a novel by America’s bard Walt Whitman, best known for his Leaves of Grass, a tome of poetry in free verse considered one of the most important parts of literature in the country.
Whitman published the first version of Leaves of Grass when he was in his 30’s and was already quite mature as a writer. He’d remarked that, although he’d written things in the past, he would rather that his early “crude and boyish pieces” be forgotten completely.
That’s not what has happened. Turpin was looking through one of Whitman’s journals and found an outline for a novel, which included several character names. Although past scholars had figured the outline was just that and never led to anything more, Turpin did his own search of digital databases.
The names turned up in a newspaper ad for an anonymously written serialized story called “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle.”
He obtained funding from the UH’s discretionary fund, and had the old, large pages printed from the Library of Congress.
The find is expected to change what we understand about the life, career and writing of Walt Whitman.