Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Moncure D. Conway, 17 February 1868

Date: February 17, 1868

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:15–16. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Moncure Daniel Conway Papers 1847–1907, Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New York, N.Y.

Whitman Archive ID: col.00001

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Kathryn Kruger, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

February 17, 1868.

My dear Conway,

Your letter of February 1st has just come to hand. I am willing that Mr. Hotten should sell his English publication of my Poems in the United States, on condition of paying me one shilling on every copy disposed of here—& hereby give consent to that arrangement.1 Furthermore, to save trouble, I hereby fully empower you to decide & act for me in any matters or propositions relating to the book, in England, should any such arise—& what you agree to is agreed to by me. If convenient I should like Mr. Hotten to send me two copies of the book, by mail, immediately. I should also consider it a special favor if you would forward me from time to time any of the English magazines or journals that might contain noteworthy criticisms of my poems. But you must allow me to repay you the favor.

William O'Connor is well, and remains employed as before. Ellen O'Connor2 is absent in Providence, but returns soon—their little daughter has been very ill, but is now convalescing.

Our American politics, as you notice, are in an unusually effervescent condition—with perhaps (to the mere eye-observation from a distance) divers alarming & deadly portending shows & signals. Yet we old stagers take things very coolly, & count on coming out all right in due time. The Republicans have exploited the negro too intensely, & there comes a reaction. But that is going to be provided for. According to present appearances the good, worthy, non-demonstrative, average-representing Grant will be chosen President next fall. What about him, then? As at present advised, I shall vote for him non-demonstrative as he is—but admit I can tell much better about him some five years hence.

I remain well & hearty—occupy the same quite agreeable & quiet berth in the Attorney General's office—and, at leisure, am writing a prose piece or two, (which I will send you, when printed.)3

I wish to send my sincerest thanks & personal regards to Mr. Rossetti. To have had my book, & my cause, fall into his hands, in London, in the way they have, I consider one of the greatest pieces of good fortune.

Mr. Morley4 called upon me. Did you get my piece I sent, "Democracy"? I have just received a letter from A. B. Alcott5—he was with Mr. Emerson the previous evening, talking.

Remember my request to Mr. Hotten for a couple of copies by mail—also, by your own kindness, any English criticisms of value should such appear.

I have not yet seen the February Fortnightly6—nor the book William Blake—but shall procure & read both. I feel prepared in advance to render my cordial & admirant respect to Mr. Swinburne—& would be glad to have him know that I thank him heartily for the mention which, I understand, he has made of me in the Blake.7

Indeed, my dear friend, I may here confess to you that to be accepted by those young men of England, & so treated with highest courtesy & even honor, touches one deeply. In my own country, so far, from the organs, the press, & from authoritative sources, I have received but one long tirade of shallow impudence, mockery, & scurrilous jeers. Only since the English recognition have the skies here lighted up a little.

With remembrance & love to you, Rossetti, & all my good friends—I write, for the present, Farewell.

Walt Whitman.


1. In accepting Hotten's proposal as outlined in Conway's letter, Walt Whitman carefully repeated the agreement. Conway reported that Hotten informed him that "when expenses are paid, you will have a percentage on each copy sold here" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 2:284). [back]

2. Whitman responded to the news of Ellen M. O'Connor's return from Rhode Island on February 24, 1868[back]

3. Walt Whitman was preparing "Personalism" for the Galaxy. In his March 18, 1867 letter, Whitman asked Conway to handle the English publication of the work. [back]

4. John Morley (1838–1923), a statesman as well as a man of letters, was editor of the Fortnightly Review from 1867 to 1882. He had visited Walt Whitman in February; see Morley's Recollections (1917), 2:105. Morley replied on January 5, 1869 that he could not print Walt Whitman's poem ("Thou vast Rondure, Swimming in Space") until April: "If that be not too late for you, and if you can make suitable arrangements for publication in the United States so as not to interfere with us in point of time, I shall be very glad." Unaccountably, the poem did not appear in print.

On November 7, 1867, Conway had written a note introducing John Morley; see also Whitman's December 17, 1868 letter to Morley. [back]

5. Walt Whitman was misleading: A. Bronson Alcott wrote on January 7, 1868. See Whitman's April 26, 1868 letter to Alcott. [back]

6. On February 1, 1868, Conway called Whitman's attention to his review of Swinburne's book on Blake in the Fortnightly Review, 9 (1868), 216–220. [back]

7. Swinburne, at the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay, pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world" ([London: John Camden Hotten, 1868], 300–303). Included in Songs before Sunrise (1871) was his famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America." For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Walt Whitman and his later recantation, see Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1934), 103–121. [back]


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