Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to James M. Edmunds, 17 November [1872]

Date: November 17, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00663

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:188–189. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Ashley Lawson, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Nov. 171

J M Edmunds, P. M.2
Dear Sir:

Your letter, referring me the ruling of the P. O. Dept. [as] to what the term "book manuscripts" as used in Sec. 244. Postal Laws and Reg. includes, and what it excludes, makes me then respectfully request that, if convenient, that ruling shall be brought up before the proper officers of the Dept, to be reconsidered and reversed for the following briefly stated reasons:

1st the word "Book" as used in the statute is unquestionably the generic term "Book," comprehensive of all printed literary matter, (see Webster's Unabridged Dict. last ed. p. 151.) A pamphlet, monthly or weekly magazine, the "Living Age," the "Galaxy," or any literary composition, or printed issue, or any collection of sheets of paper, of literary character, or only two sheets, or one sheet—must, all & several, be included in the term.

2d. The intention of Congress [&] of its post office, & other legislation3 to foster literature, education, authorship, general reading, publication, &c. & be liberal to the press: is well known to the Dept. I might claim therefore that the section must be construed generously. But I merely claim that it be construed according to the exact meaning & definition of its own terminology—See the Dictionaries4—Webster—Book—a general name of every printed literary composition—The quest. a generic term—The question also is, Is a magazine—(i.e. a pamphlet)—a book—See dictionary—pamphlet . . . . . . . . a small book—Worcester—pamphlet—a book consisting of only one or a few sheets stitched together, & not bound—

I would respectfully apply a second time for a reconsideration & reversal of the ruling of the construction in your Dept. of that proviso of Sec. 244 of Postal Laws, which fixes the postage on "book Manuscripts and corrected proofs passing between authors & publishers," at the rate of ordinary printed matter, which ruling, as furnished me, is that MSS. and corrected proofs from or to Magazines, pamphlets, literary periodicals, &c. are not included in this proviso, but shall pay letter postage.

Against this I again offer as follows: The main question is, What is a book in fact, and in the meaning of the law?—I say, in both, it is5

In the ruling furnished me by the Department, stress is laid on the distinction Congress makes (in the postage rate) between Books and other printed matter, as pamphlets, magazines, & newspapers. So they do make such distinction, invariably in order to decrease the rate of postage of the latter.

The inference is a fair one then that if book MSS go for printed matter postage, the pamphlet and Magazine MSS should at least do so. The distinction is made for the purpose of favoring the periodical press. But it does not warrant any such inference as in the ruling furnished.

All literary MSS. are "book manuscripts," and when printed, they become "Books"—and the law covers all (literary matter)—To contend otherwise would be same as to confine the meaning of the word man as used by metaphysicians and statesmen (by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence for instance,) to mean a full grown male person only—while, of course, it is an ensemble and generic term, for both sexes, and all ages.


1. Draft letter. [back]

2. J. M. Edmunds (1810–1879) was a postmaster in Washington, D.C., from 1869 to 1879. [back]

3. The phraseology here is uncertain because of the interlineations. [back]

4. The material from here to the end of the paragraph is actually a series of jottings which Walt Whitman intended to clarify, and many of which he no doubt eliminated in the letter. [back]

5. Whitman left space for the insertion of the definition. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.