Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Henry Clapp, Jr. to Walt Whitman, 14 May 1860

Date: May 14, 1860

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: D. Appleton, 1908), 2:375-76. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Location of original letter manuscript is unknown.

Whitman Archive ID: med.00331

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, Joshua Ware, and Nicole Gray




N.Y.
Monday May 14, '60

My dear Walt: I spent much time yesterday reading your poems, and am more charmed with them than ever. I think you would have done well to follow Mr. Emerson's advice, but you may have done better as it is. At any rate, the book is bound to sell, if money enough is spent circulating the Reprints and advertising it generally. It is a fundamental principle in political economy that everything succeeds if money enough is spent on it. If I could spend five hundred dollars in one week on the Saturday Press I would make five thousand dollars by the operation. Ditto you with the L. of G.

You should send copies at once to Vanity Fair, Momus, The Albion, The Day Book, The Journal of Commerce, Crayon—also to Mrs. Juliette H. Beach, Albion, N.Y.,1 who will do you great justice in the S.P. (for we shall have a series of articles)—to Charles D. Gardette Esq,2 No 910 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, to Evening Journal, Philadelphia, and also some dozen copies to me to be distributed at discretion. Do not hereafter ask the editors to notice at any particular time or at all: for the effect is bad.

I want to do great things for you with the book, and as soon as I get over my immediate troubles will do so. But just now I am in a state of despair even in respect to getting out another issue of the S.P. and all for want of a paltry two or three hundred dollars which would take the thing to a paying point, and make it worth ten thousand dollars as a transferable piece of property.

Yours in haste,
Henry Clapp, Jr.


Correspondent:
Henry Clapp, Jr. (1814–1875) was a journalist, editor and reformer. Whitman and Clapp most likely met in Charles Pfaff's beer cellar, located in lower Manhattan. Clapp, who founded the literary weekly the Saturday Press in 1858, was instrumental in promoting Whitman's poetry and celebrity: over twenty items on Whitman appeared in the Press before the periodical folded (for the first time) in 1860. Of Clapp Whitman told Horace Traubel, "You will have to know something about Henry Clapp if you want to know all about me." For more about Whitman's thoughts on Clapp, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, (1906–1996), 9 vols., 1:214.

Notes:

1. The review of Leaves of Grass that appeared in the New–York Saturday Press on June 2, 1860, was signed "Juliette H. Beach," but it had really been written by her husband, Calvin Beach. Expecting a favorable response, the editor of the Saturday Press, Henry Clapp, Jr., had forwarded a copy of Whitman's book to Juliette Beach for review. Her husband, however, angered that Clapp had sent the book to his wife, appropriated it and wrote a scathing review, which was published in his wife's name. In a letter to Clapp dated June 7, 1860, Juliette Beach explained the nature of the mistake and expressed her regret at not having had the opportunity to publish her own favorable opinion of Leaves of Grass. In an attempt to undo some of the damage, Clapp printed a notice titled "Correction" in the subsequent issue of his newspaper, alongside three positive commentaries on Leaves of Grass by women. (For Calvin Beach's review of the 1860 Leaves of Grass see "Leaves of Grass.") Ellen O'Connor contributed her bit to the theory that Beach and Walt Whitman had a love affair when she asserted that "Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd," published in Drum-Taps, was composed for "a certain lady" who had angered her husband because of her correspondence with the poet (Emory Holloway, ed., The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, [Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1921], 1:lviii). "Mrs. Beach's notes" may be the letters to Walt Whitman, which later Burroughs vainly asked Mrs. Beach to print; see Clara Barrus, The Life and Letters of John Burroughs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), 1:120. If these were love letters, Walt Whitman hardly treated Mrs. Beach's heart-stirrings discreetly. See also Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967), 340–342. [back]

2. Charles Desmarais Gardette was a former reporter for the New York Evening Post who now wrote for the Philadelphia Evening Journal and also contributed frequently to the Saturday Press—and whenever in New York joined Clapp, Whitman, and the others at the Bohemian table at Pfaff's. An accomplished parodist, Gardette achieved his greatest fame when challenged by his friends to create a perfect imitation of Poe. His homage, published in the November 19, 1859, issue of the Saturday Press, was so convincing that it continued to surface in volumes of Poe's collected works into the twentieth century, even after Gardette published detailed accounts of its composition. Under the pen-name "Saerasmid" (an anagram of "Desmarais"), Gardette published several parodies of Whitman in the Saturday Press in 1860: "Yourn and Mine, and Any-Day (A Yawp, After Walt Whitman)" (January 21), "Poemet—(After Walt Whitman)" (February 11), and "Saerasmid to Walt Whitman, A Greeting" (June 16). See George Pierce Clark, "'Saerasmid,' An Early Promoter of Walt Whitman," American Literature (1955): 259–62. [back]


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