Digging History

A grad student keeps finding lost Walt Whitman works

In this undated image, American writer Walt Whitman is seen.

In this undated image, American writer Walt Whitman is seen.  (AP Photo/The Library of America)

A University of Houston grad student poking around in the Library of Congress' archives stumbled across a long-lost novel from the mid-19th century—and it's a discovery the editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review tells the Houston Chronicle is "going to change everything we thought we knew" about the American poetry legend his publication is named for.

English PhD candidate Zachary Turpin's find: Whitman's Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, originally offered to readers in 1852 as a six-piece series in New York's Sunday Dispatch.

The New York Times describes the then-anonymously written 36,000-word piece as a "quasi-Dickensian tale" (which it notes shows hints of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, published in 1855) about an orphan, with a bevy of compelling characters and "more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts." Turpin, who hit Whitman gold in 2015 when he found a lost Whitman advice series, told the Times last year that his obsession with searching for unattributed Whitman works is "kind of a sickness I have in off-hours." This time around, his quest had him plumbing an archive that contained various Whitman notes, drafts, and other miscellaneous records, per the Guardian.

One set of scraps featured a bunch of character names, including "Jack Engle," and when Turpin plugged those names into databases of Victorian-era newspapers, up popped a tiny Times ad for the upcoming Engle serial set to appear in the Dispatch, which Whitman was known to have written for.

"I couldn't believe that, for a few minutes, I was the only person on Earth who knew about this book," Turpin says. Read the story at the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.

(A husband-and-wife team identified a Whitman poem in 2014.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Grad Student Keeps Finding Lost Whitman Works