Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Wells, Samuel Roberts (1820–1875)
Author:
Stern, Madeleine B.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The publication of the second edition of Leaves of Grass without an imprimatur by the phrenologist-publishers Fowler and Wells in 1856 is attributable in large measure to S.R. Wells. In 1843 Wells joined the business founded by O.S. and L.N. Fowler, married their sister Charlotte in 1844, and became a member of the firm, renamed Fowlers and Wells. Wells headed the publishing department, his list including phrenological handbooks and manuals on related reforms: vegetarianism, temperance, and water cure.

By June 1856, when Whitman was contributing to Life Illustrated, one of the firm's periodicals, the possibility of a new edition of Leaves of Grass had been broached. That Wells was reluctant is reflected in his letter of 7 June 1856 to "Friend Whitman," insisting upon the omission of "objectionable passages" and suggesting that the work would be better published elsewhere. Wells's ambivalence and timidity certainly contributed to the firm's compromise decision to publish the expanded second edition of Leaves of Grass without a firm imprimatur. Fowler and Wells (the firm had been renamed with Orson S. Fowler's withdrawal in September 1855) agreed to print and sell one thousand copies of the new Leaves of Grass—the edition that reprinted Whitman's phrenological analysis made by Lorenzo N. Fowler in 1849 and carried on the spine of each volume Emerson's endorsement without Emerson's authorization. The firm's support was still anonymous and halfhearted, however, and after the book's unfavorable reception, the relationship of Walt Whitman to Fowler and Wells ceased.

Bibliography

Myerson, Joel. Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1993.

Stern, Madeleine B. Heads & Headlines: The Phrenological Fowlers. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1971.

Wells, Samuel Roberts. Letter to Walt Whitman. 7 June 1856. Charles E. Feinberg Collection. Library of Congress.


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