Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thayer & Eldridge to Walt Whitman, 14 June 1860

Date: June 14, 1860

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00576

Source: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Eric Conrad, Kathryn Kruger, and Nick Krauter

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June 14, 1860

Dear Walt,

Your favor came duly to hand. We1 send you by Express to-day prepaid care of Mr. Clapp of Spruce St—12 copies of the Leaves2. We have had none bound in dark cloths yet his shall have in the next edition3. The first edition is nearly all gone, and the second is all printed and ready for binding.

We do not think that this Summer is the time to commence a rigorous and systematic course of advertising. As soon as cooler weather comes and people are crowding the great cities we intend to advertise largely both by circular, porters, and the press. We shall however do considerable advertising this summer. We have concocted a plan by which we hope to give the Imprints a very wide and telling circulation, and which we shall put into action immediately4. If you will look in the next number of Frank Leslie, an advertisement headed "a Good Book given away" will explain what we mean5. This we intend to have go in as an Editorial Advertisement to nearly every paper in the Country, and keep it certainly in. This ought to give us a very large lot of mail orders, and we think that the mail will be a larger customer than all the Trade put together at least for the present.6

There is considerable opposition among the trade to the book. Brown & Taggard the largest jobbers in Boston to Country booksellers, refuse to supply the orders for it and will not buy a copy7. C. N. Lee tho still hold out, and sell all they can. The rest of the trade sell what they are obliged to, but cannot be induced to urge it any—of course we intend to conquer this opposition partly born of prejudices and partly of cowardice, by creating an overwhelming demand among the main public, which shall sweep them and their petty fears, on its resistless torrent.

I have sent such an advertisement as you hear of to the N.Y. Tribune—for a standing notice.

We shall shortly come out with an advertisement to touch the pleasure travellers in all the principal cities—8

Meanwhile the Papers are noticing it pretty well—the Scottish American has a very fair notice, and we get some almost every day. We received the N.Y. Mercury with the allusion of Ada Isaacs Menken Heenan, and think it a good indication that the book is reaching the lower strata9

In regard to the contract, we desire that it should be fixed as early as possible. We don't know what accidents may happen in this life, and a matter of that kind should not go without being determined.

We sent the books to England a long while ago.—a day or two after you left Boston. Shall we send your oil portrait back?10

Should like to hear from you soon. Our shop fellows all send their best remembrances to you—Mrs. Thayer desires to be remembered also.

Yours Truly
Thayer & Eldridge


1. Thayer and Eldridge was the Boston publishing firm responsible for the third edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1860). For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)." [back]

2. Henry Clapp (1814–1875) Jr., was a journalist, editor and reformer. Whitman and Clapp most likely met in Charles Pfaff's beer cellar, located in lower Manhattan. Clapp, who founded the literary weekly the Saturday Press in 1858, was instrumental in promoting Whitman's poetry and celebrity; over twenty items on Whitman appeared in the Press before the periodical folded (for the first time) in 1860. Of Clapp Whitman told Horace Traubel, "You will have to know something about Henry Clapp if you want to know all about me." (For Whitman's thoughts on Clapp, see With Walt Whitman in Camden, "Sunday, May 27, 1888.") [back]

3. For the 1860 Leaves of Grass Whitman abandoned the green binding used for the 1855 and 1856 editions. Instead, Whitman had his third edition bound in several different bindings ranging from yellowish brown to reddish orange to purple. For a discussion of the significance of this color change see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman[back]

4. Leaves of Grass Imprints, a free, sixty-four-page promotional pamphlet published by Thayer and Eldridge to advertise the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. Imprints includes a unique mixture of promotional material including positive and negative reviews of the 1855 and 1856 Leaves of Grass and even reports of Whitman abandoning poetry to drive an omnibus. For a brief description of Imprints see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books / Books Making Whitman[back]

5. Without Whitman's foreknowledge, Thayer and Eldridge published a small advertisement in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper under the heading "A Good Book Free" which reads: "One of the most interesting and spicy Books ever published, containing 64 pages of excellent reading matter, will be sent FREE to any address, on application to box 3263, Boston Post Office. This is no advertisement of a patent medicine or other humbug. All you have to do is to send your address as above, and you will receive by return of mail, without expense, a handsome and well–printed book, which will both amuse and instruct you." Thayer and Eldridge also ran a number of more traditional advertisements for Imprints that mention by name both the pamphlet itself and Leaves of Grass. For a discussion of Thayer and Eldridge's unconventional promotional strategies see Ted Genoways, Walt Whitman and the Civil War, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 59–67. [back]

6. According to Thayer and Eldridge's own reports, Imprints did in fact attract some attention. In a later letter to Whitman, Thayer and Eldridge claim they "are now receiving 300 applications a day for Imprints but the orders by mail [for Leaves of Grass] do not seem to come in much yet—probably owing to the season of the year which is more adopted to haying than reading." See Thayer and Eldridge to Walt Whitman, June 27, 1860[back]

7. Brown and Taggard, the largest distributor to bookstores in Boston, refused to sell the 1860 Leaves of Grass[back]

8. An advertisement for Leaves of Grass appearing in the New-York Saturday Press June 30, 1860, asked readers "Are you going into the country?" and guarantees "This, out of all the countless volumes in the stores, is the one to take with you, and run over in the field, in the shade of the woods, or on the mountains, or by the sea-shore." For a description of these advertisements see Ted Genoways, Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 61. [back]

9. Adah Isaacs Mencken Heenan was a famed actress in New York's Bowery. Mencken published a favorable sketch of Whitman in the June 10, 1860 New York Sunday Mercury praising the poet for swimming "against the current." Mencken describes Whitman as "too far ahead of his contemporaries; they cannot comprehend him yet; he swims against the stream and finds me company. The passengers, in their floating boats, call him a fanatic, a visionary, a demagogue, a good-natured fool, etc., etc. Still he heeds them not: his mental conviction will not permit him to heed them." At the time she endorsed Whitman, Mencken herself was the center of controversy for being a “mulatto” actress accused of bigamy and pregnant with the child of an unknown father. For a detailed examination of Mencken's review of Whitman see Ted Genoways, Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 52–54. [back]

10. Charles Hine's portrait of Whitman served as the basis for Stephen Alonzo Schoff's engraving of the poet for Leaves of Grass (1860). For a discussion of Hine's portrait and its relation to Schoff's engraving see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2006), 38–42; for Schoff's frontispiece see Stephen Alonzo Schoff after an oil portrait by Charles W. Hine[back]


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