Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles P. Somerby to Walt Whitman, 4 October 1875

Date: October 4, 1875

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01936

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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kevin McMullen, Ashley Lawson, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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Radical, Scientific, Positivistic and Oriental Literature,
(Few Doors East of Broadway,)
New York,
Oct. 4, 18751

Walt Whitman.
Dear Sir:

Inclosed find P.O. Order for $10. Have made every exertion to raise the $200 you require, and find it utterly impossible to get it. This X is taken from my rent money, and makes us much short on rent. The utter stagnation in the business world, coupled with eight failures of those owing us, and many of the books that were supposed to be sold for cost by my predecessor being returned, explains the situation. Had we not confidently expected trade to be good in September, we should not have made the same calculations we have. We had hoped that you would accept our offer to get out your new book, and thus more than discharge our indebtedness to you. Please allow us to do so now, if not too late. Mr. S. is a practical printer and proofreader, and can follow faithfully any instructions you may give. Let us hear from you on this matter, please, at once, if not too late. Each day, we look for a change in the state of trade. We will remit you more at the earliest possible moment. Our mortification at our inability to send more is beyond expression, and we wish we could see you to explain the exact situation.

Yours sincerely,
Chas. P. Somerby

Charles P. Somerby was one of the book dealers whom Walt Whitman termed "embezzlers." In 1875, Somerby assumed the liabilities of Butts & Co.; see Whitman's February 4, 1874, letter to Asa K. Butts & Company. This proved to be a difficulty for Somerby, who, in reply to a lost letter on March 16, 1875, was unable "to remit the amount you name at present." On May 5, 1875, he wrote: "It is very mortifying to me not to be in a position to send you even a small portion of the balance your due." On April 19, 1876, Somerby reported that "I have been losing, instead of gaining." On May 6, 1876, he sent Walt Whitman a statement pertaining to some volumes; on May 12, 1876, he included a complete financial statement: in eighteen months he had made only one cash payment, and owed Whitman $215.17. The firm was still unable to make a payment on September 28, 1876. In August 1877, Whitman received a notice of bankruptcy dated August 8, 1877, from, in his own words, "assignee [Josiah Fletcher, an attorney] of the rascal Chas P. Somerby." These manuscripts are in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection, of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | 431 Stevens St., | (Cor West), | Camden, | N.J. It is postmarked: New York | Oct 5 | [illegible]AM. [back]


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