Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles P. Somerby to Walt Whitman, 19 April 1876

Date: April 19, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01937

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 note: The annotation, "letter from C P Somerby April 20 '76," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

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

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New York,
Ap'l 19, 1876.1

Mr. Walt Whitman,
Dear Sir:

I do not forget what I am owing to you, and try in every way to raise something towards discharging my obligation to you. But I have been losing, instead of gaining, for some time. I know that sometime I shall have a good business, but that don't help matters for the present. In order to tide over the dullness, I have accepted proofreading outside of my business, altho' forbidden to do so by [oculists?]. Without being asked, you may be certain I shall send if but a small amount as soon as I can. You would be surprised if you knew exactly what I have had to contend with in the way of obstacles for some time. I am occupied at proofreading from 7:30 A.M. till 5:30 P.M., with only a ½ hr. for lunch at noon. My business is in the hands of a rural boy, & I attend to my correspondence from 4 A.M. till 6:30 A.M. & from 7:30 to 10 P.M. & sometimes later, and Sundays. I can still do nothing but ask for your indulgence. But my mortification at having to ask you to wait, under all the circumstances, is very great. Sometime I hope to make amends and a personal explanation.

In great haste,
Yours truly,
C. 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 matter of embarrassment to 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 October 4, 1875, Somerby sent $10—his only cash payment: "Have made every exertion to raise the $200 you require, and find it utterly impossible to get it. . . . We had hoped that you would accept our offer to get out your new book, and thus more than discharge our indebtedness to you." On April 19, 1876, Somerby reported that "I have been losing, instead of gaining." On May 6, 1876, he sent 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 Walt 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: Mr. Walt Whitman | 431 Stevens St., | Camden, | N.J. It is postmarked: New York | Apr 20 | [illegible]. [back]


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