Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Frederick S. Ellis to Walt Whitman, 23 August 1871

Date: August 23, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01613

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "F.S. Ellis," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes Oct 7 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Beverley Rilett, Ashley Lawson, Kevin McMullen, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Cristin Noonan, Paige Wilkinson, Stephanie Blalock, and Caitlin S. Matheis

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Aug 23. 1871

To Walt Whitman Esq,
Dear Sir:

I thank you very much for your letter1 received this morning. Its frank and pleasant tone makes me regret even more than I should otherwise have done, to feel myself obliged to say at once that I do not see my way to bringing out a complete edition of your poems in England. I admire them so very much myself that I should much like to do it but there are certain pieces (among those which I admire the most) which would not go down in England, and it certainly would not be worth while to publish it again in a mutilated form, nor of course would you wish it. W. M. Rossetti2 is a great admirer of your poems and a man by no means squeamish yet you see he did not venture to publish them without alteration in England. I think he was wrong: they should have been published complete & with your sanction or let alone. May I keep the volume you send me? if so I will remit you the price for I have tried in vain to get a complete edition through Trübners.3

I am Dear Sir
Yours faithfully
F. S. Ellis

Frederick Startridge Ellis (1830–1901) was a London bookseller, publisher, and author who published the works of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Whitman first wrote to Ellis on August 12, 1871, to ask if he would publish Leaves of Grass. Ellis declined, writing in an August 23 letter that there were poems in Leaves of Grass that "would not go down in England," but he praised Whitman's poetry and sent him a specially printed copy of Algernon Charles Swinburne's Songs before Sunrise.


1. See Whitman's letter to Frederick S. Ellis of August 12, 1871 in which he included an edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

2. 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]

3. Trübner & Company were the London agents for Whitman's books. [back]


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