Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to James R. Osgood & Company, 23 March 1882

Date: March 23, 1882

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 3:270–271. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: T. E. Hanley Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00440

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Kirsten Clawson, and Nicole Gray

Camden New Jersey
March 23 '82

Dear Sirs

Yours of 21st rec'd, with the curious list—I suppose of course from the District Attorney's office—of "suggestions" lines and pages and pieces &c. to be "expunged." The list whole & several is rejected by me, & will not be thought of under any circumstances.1

To give you a definitive idea of what I meant in my notes of March 8 and March 19—& of course stick to—I mail you with this a copy of L. of G. with the not numerous but fully effective changes and cancellations I thought of making: see in it pages

& 90

All those lines & passages marked in pencil to come out, & their places to be exactly filled with other matter—so that they will superficially present the same appearance as now.2 The whole thing would not involve an expense of more than from 5 to $10—

My proposition is that we at once make the revision here indicated, & go on with the regular issue of the book—If then any further move is made by the District Attorney & his backers—as of course there are others behind it all—they will only burn their own fingers, & very badly—

I want the paper copy I send of L of G. returned to me when through.3

Walt Whitman

Let this whole matter be kept quiet in the house—no talk or information that may lead to newspaper items—the change to be just silently made—the book, & at casual view all its pages, to look just the same—only those minutely looking detecting the difference—

Inform the official people at once that the cancellation is to be made for future editions.4


Write me at once & definitively if all this suits—


1. The publisher submitted the following list of "Passages to be expurgated from Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass,'" a list not accurately recorded by Richard Maurice Bucke in Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 149n: "Song of Myself" (p. 31, ll. 15-16; p. 32, ll. 19-22; p. 37, ll. 14-15; p. 48, ll. 20, 28, 29; p. 49, ll. 11, 20; p. 52, section 28, beginning with l. 12; p. 59, ll. 11-12; p. 66, ll. 15-16); "From Pent-Up Aching Rivers" (p. 79, ll. 21-22; pp. 80-81, ll. 14 to end); "I Sing the Body Electric" (p. 84, ll. 1-17; p. 87, ll. 13, 28); "A Woman Waits for Me" (pp. 88-89, "entire"); "Spontaneous Me" (pp. 90-91); "Native Moments" (p. 94, ll. 1-7); "The Dalliance of the Eagles" (p. 216, in entirety); "By Blue Ontario's Shore" (p. 266, ll. 21-22); "To a Common Prostitute" (pp. 299-300, in entirety); "Unfolded Out of the Folds" (p. 303, ll. 2-3); "The Sleepers" (p. 325, half of l. 22; p. 331, ll. 9-10); and "Faces" (p. 355, ll. 13-17). See the letter from Osgood & Company to Whitman of March 21, 1882[back]

2. This copy of Leaves of Grass with Whitman's changes has either been lost or was destroyed. It will be noted that Whitman agreed to alterations only in "I Sing the Body Electric," "A Woman Waits for Me," and "Spontaneous Me." On his copy of a draft of the letter to Osgood & Co. Whitman wrote: "By this letter of W W March 23 several minor changes & alterations, words & lines in two or three cases are consented to in 'Children of Adam' but J R O. & the officials not considering them as at all meeting the point they are entirely waived on both sides" (The Library of Congress; The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 8:295). [back]

3. Osgood & Co. replied to Whitman on March 29: "We do not think the official mind will be satisfied with the changes you propose. They seem to think it necessary that the two poems 'A Woman Waits for Me' and 'Ode to a Common Prostitute' should be omitted altogether. If you consent to this we think the matter can be arranged without any other serious changes." [back]

4. This final paragraph was included by the executors in the letter of March 7 (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, 8:291). [back]


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