Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Hotten, John Camden (1832–1873)
Author:
Myerson, Joel
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

John Camden Hotten was born John William Hotten in London, the son of a carpenter. He was apprenticed to a bookseller at age fourteen and showed an aptitude for the business. In 1848 he went to America, where he stayed until 1856. Upon his return, Hotten went into the bookselling and publishing business. One of his specialties was American authors, and he published editions of Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Artemus Ward, and he tried unsuccessfully to collect an edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings. Hotten was also accustomed to controversial authors: he took over as publisher of A.C. Swinburne's Poems and Ballads after the original publisher withdrew following charges of obscenity. His fellow booksellers held him in low regard because of his personality, his many piracies and spurious "editions," and his connection to what was then considered pornographic literature.

Hotten published two books by Whitman—a selection from and a complete edition of Leaves of Grass. In 1867 he engaged William Michael Rossetti to edit a selection of Whitman's writings for twenty-five pounds, and the resulting Poems by Walt Whitman was published the following year. This 403-page selection from the 1867 Leaves was expurgated with Whitman's permission and assistance. Whitman had originally balked at a selected edition of Leaves, but faced with a choice between that or no edition at all, he chose the former. Moncure Daniel Conway, who was in London at the time, acted as Whitman's unofficial agent in dealing with Hotten and Rossetti. Hotten printed one thousand copies of the book, and when after his death his firm was taken over by Chatto and Windus, it was brought out in a new edition in 1886 and reprinted in 1901, 1910, 1926, and 1945.

In 1873, Hotten brought out five hundred copies of an unauthorized edition of the 1872 Leaves of Grass, which, technically, is the sixth edition of the title. It was a very accurate type-facsimile of Whitman's book, even down to the "Washington, D.C., 1872" imprint on the title page. Indeed, Hotten's name was nowhere to be found in the book. Hotten's anonymous piracy was no doubt due to British censorship laws, which held the publisher and not the distributor at fault in cases of selling obscene material, and which he probably thought he could avoid more easily by posing as the distributor of the book rather than as the publisher of it. As in the case of his earlier edition of Whitman's poems, Hotten paid Whitman no royalties for using his work.

Bibliography

Paley, Morton D. "John Camden Hotten and the First British Editions of Walt Whitman—'A Nice Milky Cocoa-Nut.'" Publishing History 6 (1979): 5–35.

Welland, Dennis. "John Camden Hotten and Emerson's Uncollected Essays." Yearbook of English Studies 6 (1976): 156–175.


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