Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William Michael Rossetti, 17 March 1876

Date: March 17, 1876

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

Location: Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library, Princeton, N.J.

Whitman Archive ID: pri.00016

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, and Nicole Gray

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431 Stevens st.
cor West.
N. Jersey,
U. S. America—
March 17,

W. M. Rossetti—Dear friend,

Yours of the 28th Feb.1 rec'd, & indeed welcomed & appreciated. I am jogging along still about the same in physical condition—still certainly no worse, & I sometimes lately suspect rather better, or at any rate more adjusted to the situation—Even begin to think of making some move, some change of base, &c. (the doctors have been advising it for over two years, but I hav'n't felt to do it, yet.) My paralysis does not lift—I cannot walk any distance—I still have this baffling, obstinate, apparently chronic affection of the stomachic apparatus & liver—Yet, (as told in former letters) I get out doors a little every day—write & read, in moderation—appetite sufficiently good, (eat only very plain food, but always did that)—digestion tolerable—& spirits unflagging. (As said above, I have told you most of this before, but suppose you might like to know it all again, up to date.) Of course, & pretty darkly coloring the whole, are bad spells, prostrations, some pretty grave ones, intervals—& I have resigned myself to the certainty of permanent incapacitation from solid work—but things may continue at least in this half-and-half way, for months—even years.

My books are out, the new edition, a set of which, immediately on 'receiving your letter' of 28th, I have sent you (by mail March 15)2 & I suppose you have before this rec'd them.

My dear friend, your offers of help, & those of my other British friends, I think I fully appreciate, in the right spirit, welcome & acceptive—leaving the matter altogether in your & their hands—& to your & their convenience, discretion, leisure & nicety—Though poor now even to penury I have not so far been deprived of any physical thing I need or wish whatever—& I feel confident I shall not, in the future. During my employment of seven years or more in Washington after the war (1865–'72) I regularly saved a great part of my wages—& though the sum has now become about exhausted, by my expenses of the last three years—there are already beginning at present welcome dribbles hitherward from the sales of my new edition which I just job & sell, myself, (as the book agents here for 3 years in New York have successively, deliberately, badly cheated me)3 & shall continue to dispose of the books myself. And that is the way I should prefer to glean my support—In that way I cheerfully accept all the aid my friends find it convenient to proffer (Prof. Dowden has sent me the money for seven sets—which I have forwarded to him at Dublin.4 I wish you to loan this letter to him to read.) I wish you to notify me—by postal card will do—soon as you receive your books sent on the 15th—I wish you also to loan this letter to Mrs. Gilchrist, first of all. I shall write to her to-day or to-morrow—but briefly.

To repeat a little, & without undertaking details, understand, dear friend, for yourself & all, that I heartily & most affectionately thank my British friends, & that I accept their sympathetic generosity in the same spirit in which I believe (nay, know) it is offered—that though poor I am not in want—that I maintain good heart & cheer—& that by far the most satisfaction to me (& I think it can be done, & believe it will be,) will be to live, as long as possible, on the sales, by myself, of my own works—& perhaps, if practicable, by further writings for the press.

Walt Whitman

There is a small fury & much eructive spitting & sputtering already among the "literary coteries" here from Robt Buchanan's lance-slash at them anent of me, in his letter in the London D. News, of March 13,5 (synopsis cabled here to Associated press, & printed everywhere)—the "coteries" resenting it madly by editorials here & there already in the papers—they fall to berating R. B. first, & then me—say, if I were sick, or were poor, why then,—&c. &c. &c

(If convenient, I should like to have this letter loaned to Mr. Buchanan also. I am prohibited from writing too much, & I must make this candid statement of the situation serve for all my dear friends over there.)6


1. Although previously confused by conflicting press reports as to Whitman's financial straits, Rossetti accepted Whitman's statements in the West Jersey Press and in Whitman's letter to Rossetti of January 26. In a letter to Whitman on February 28, Rossetti wrote: "There are some of us who wd really be glad to exert ourselves to the extent of our moderate means, to prove that we are not insensible of the obligations we owe you." Yet in this letter Whitman was silently modifying his own earlier accounts; in fact, his position as now stated did not materially differ from that in the Springfield Republican which had led to the reply in the West Jersey Press. Rossetti distributed facsimiles of this letter to English admirers. [back]

2. On February 28 Rossetti informed Whitman that Anne Gilchrist and he would shortly send £10 (approximately $50) for sets of Whitman's new edition. [back]

3. For Whitman's account of this alleged embezzlement, see the letter from Whitman to an unidentified correspondent of December 30, 1875. [back]

4. See Whitman's letter to Edward Dowden of March 4, 1876[back]

5. Buchanan had written in praise of Whitman as early as 1867 (see the letter from Whitman to Routledge & Sons of December 30, 1867, and the letter from Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt of January 16, 1872). His account in the London newspaper was based on excerpts from the West Jersey Press which Rossetti had inserted in The Athenaeum on March 11. Rossetti's letter in support of Buchanan appeared in the London Daily News on March 14. [back]

6. Except for this final paragraph, which was probably added later, the letter differs from a draft version held by the Library of Congress only in insignificant verbal changes (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919). [back]


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