Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Moncure D. Conway to Walt Whitman, 1 February 1868

Date: February 1, 1868

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01319

Source: The 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.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "Conway," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes sept 7 & 8 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Beverley Rilett, Ashley Lawson, Kevin McMullen, John Schwaninger, Cristin Noonan, Marie Ernster, Kassie Jo Baron, Jeff Hill, and Stephanie Blalock



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14 Milborne Grove, Brompton
London, England.
Feb. 1, 681

My dear friend,

I have but a moment in which to write to you, if I save the mail. My object is to ask you, in behalf of Hotten,2 whether it is consistent with your will that the selection from your works made by Rossetti3 shall be sold in the American market.4 Hotten has written to me that if so he will give you one shilling on each copy sold in America. He hopes the prefatory essay5 may attract purchasers there. I have read it, and it is excellent. The volume will be out next week; it is very neatly done, and quite as large as your last edition (American).6 Hotten writes that when expenses are paid, you will have a percentage on each copy sold here. I have assumed to be your financial agent here. I hope you will answer about the sale in America by return.7 Rossetti is much pleased by your letters to him.8 If you see O'Connor9 please thank him for sending me The Ghost and The Carpenter10—which we (wife11 & I) think extremely interesting, and dramatic. You will see in the Feb. Fortnightly12 I have (in reviewing Swinburne's13 "Blake") had something more to say of your work—which is to me the more I read it (as I do daily) the Genesis of an American Bible.

Faithfully yours
M. D. Conway.

P.S. I will watch for reviews when your book appears, & send you any that are valuable.


Correspondent:
Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman, | Attorney General's Office | Washington D.C. | United States of America. It is postmarked: LONDON-S.W. | X | FE [illegible]1 | 68; NEW [illegible]ALL | [illegible] | 15 | [illegible]TRANSIT; 4; CARRIER | FEB | 16 | 1 DEL. [back]

2. John Camden Hotten (1832–1873) re-issued Algernon Charles Swinburne's first Poems and Ballads in 1866 after the public outcry caused Swinburne's previous publisher to withdraw. Perhaps because he had lived in the United States from 1848 to 1856, Hotten introduced such writers as James Russell Lowell, Artemus Ward, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Bret Harte to an English audience. After his death, his business was purchased by Chatto & Windus. In his letter to Conway on December 5, 1866, William Douglas O'Connor had suggested Hotten as the English publisher of Whitman: "Seems to me the courage that prints Laus Veneris might dare this." Whitman was dissatisfied with Hotten's work, referring to the publisher as "the English pirate-publisher" and the edition as "bad & defective" in a January 16, 1872, letter to Rudolf Schmidt. For Whitman's relationship with Hotten, see Whitman's November 1, 1867, letter to Moncure D. Conway. [back]

3. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. During this time, William Michael Rossetti had been working out the details for a volume titled Poems by Walt Whitman (1868). [back]

5. In his twenty-seven page "Prefatory Notice" to the 1868 British Poems by Walt Whitman, William Michael Rossetti justified his editorial decisions, which included editing potentially objectionable content and removing entire poems: "My choice has proceeded upon two simple rules: first, to omit entirely every poem which could with any tolerable fairness be deemed offensive to the feelings of morals or propriety in this peculiarly nervous age; and, second, to include every remaining poem which appeared to me of conspicuous beauty or interest." For more information on Rossetti's book, see "Introduction to the British Editions of Leaves of Grass." [back]

6. This is in reference to the fourth—1867—edition of Leaves of Grass, which was actually published in November 1866. [back]

7. In his response of February 17, 1868, Whitman lays bare a deep-seated confidence in Conway over the particulars mentioned here: "Furthermore, to save trouble, I hereby fully empower you to decide & act for me in any matters or propositions relating to the book, in England, should any such arise—& what you agree to is agreed to by me." [back]

8. On November 22, 1867, Walt Whitman sent William Michael Rossetti a letter and a sketch of a proposed title page for the English edition of his poems. Whitman suggested the page read, "WALT WHITMAN'S POEMS Selected from the American Editions By Wm. M. Rosetti." On December 8, 1867, Rossetti replied, "The form of title-page which you propose would of course be adopted by me with thanks & without a moment's debate, were it not that my own title-page was previously in print." See also Walt Whitman's November 1, 1867, letter to Moncure D. Conway for a fuller explanation of the kinds of changes Rossetti had suggested prior to Whitman's November 22, 1867, letter. [back]

9. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. William Douglas O'Connor's stories The Ghost (1867) and The Carpenter (1868) would eventually be published along with The Brazen Android (1891) as Three Tales: The Ghost; The Brazen Android; The Carpenter, posthumously by his wife. [back]

11. Ellen Davis Dana (1833–1897), of Cincinatti, was a Unitarian, feminist, and abolitionist. She married Moncure D. Conway in 1858. [back]

12. The London Fortnightly Review was an English magazine founded in 1865 by a group of novelists, historians, and intellectuals. The Fortnightly Review was noted for being one of the first magazines to identify contributors by name rather than publish their work anonymously. The magazine ceased publication in 1954. [back]

13. The British poet, critic, playwright, and novelist Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was one of Whitman's earliest English admirers. At the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), Swinburne pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world" (300–303). His famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America" is included in Songs before Sunrise (1871). For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Whitman and his later recantation, see two essays by Terry L. Meyers, "Swinburne and Whitman: Further Evidence," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14 (Summer 1996), 1–11 and "A Note on Swinburne and Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 21 (Summer 2003), 38–39. [back]


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