From Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1855, Walt Whitman (books by this author)published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The first edition consisted of 12 poems, and was published anonymously; Whitman set much of the type himself, and paid for its printing. Over his lifetime, he published eight more editions, adding poems each time; there were 122 new poems in the third edition alone (1860-61), and the final "death-bed edition," published in 1891, contained almost 400 poems. The first edition received several glowing — and anonymous — reviews in New York newspapers. Most of them were written by Whitman himself. The praise was unstinting: "An American bard at last!" One legitimate mention by popular columnist Fanny Fern called the collection daring and fresh. Emerson felt it was "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." This wasn't a universal opinion, however; many called it filth, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy into the fire.
The 1855 edition contained a preface, which was left out of subsequent editions, and in it he wrote: "This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."
UPDATE: Reader Jason Streitfeld writes:
I enjoyed your recent post on Whitman's original publication of "Leaves of Grass." The whole of that original, lengthy preface is phenomenal. But there are some important points that the quote from Garrison Keller leaves out: While Whitman didn't put his name on the original publication, he did sign it with his own image. (See the frontispiece, here: http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1855/whole.html) Also, Whitman's name is not the only one missing. The publisher was not named, and none of the poems were given names, either. Nothing is named, except (in the preface) his country.