Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles P. Somerby to Walt Whitman, 12 May 1876

Date: May 12, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01938

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 annotations, "Somerby's acc't May, '76 he owes me $215," and "due me—May. 1876," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

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

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New York,
May 12, 1876.

Mr. Walt Whitman.
Dear Sir:

Your books were returned yesterday. The Web. Dict. and the Auth. Dict. will send as soon as we can. Nothing new to add to what has been already said as to acc't. Inclosed find statement.

The "Liberals" do not, as a rule, take the slightest trouble to sustain a publishing house of this character as they ought. I am left to fight the battle single-handed. There is sufficient coming to me to tide me over till times change, but they do not pay. Many in the trade let their acc'ts stand for years–they in the meantime doing a good business.

Am in receipt of orders for your books occasionally from the trade; but as the orders are not accompanied by cash, we cannot send to you for the books. What shall we do with such orders? Have in our hands now an order which was sent to J. S. Redfield,1 by A. L. Bancroft, San Francisco (Publishers and Booksellers.)2 as follows:

1 Leaves of Grass, to be sent to F. S. Richards,3 Ogden, Utah, by mail.

3 Leaves of Grass, to be sent to Appleton & Co.,4 to pack for A.L.B. & Co., All of above to be billed to A.L.B. & Co.

Probably the 3 Leaves should now be sent to A.L.B. & Co., in care of Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.5 Booksellers, Grant St. N.Y. to pack for A.L.B. & Co.

Please instruct us what to do with any orders we receive for your books.

Yours sincerely,
C. P. Somerby

New York,
May 12 1876
Mr. Walt Whitman




A few doors east of Broadway.

Terms,Net Cash.
May8[To?] mdse34
Oct.5Cash10 00
18768mdse99 23
May6"36 16$146 23
Jan5By mdse46 58
Feb.3"314 82$361 40

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 Walt Whitman a statement pertaining to the volumes mentioned in this letter. The firm was still unable to make a payment on September 28, 1876. In August 1877, Walt 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. James S. Redfield, a publisher at 140 Fulton Street, New York, was a distributor of Whitman's books in the early 1870s. On March 23, 1872, Redfield accepted 496 copies of Leaves of Grass: "I am to account to him (for all that I may sell) at the rate of One Dollar & Fifty Cents a copy, (1.50)" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) [back]

2. A. L. Bancroft & Co. was a publishing and printing company established in 1856. Their offices were at 721 Market Street, San Francisco. [back]

3. Franklin S. Richards (1849–1934), a leading figure in the Church of Latter-day Saints. Richards was the general counsel for the LDS church and a member of the Council of Fifty. He moved to Ogden, Utah, in 1869 and remained there until 1877.  [back]

4. The publishing house of D. Appleton & Company, founded by Daniel Appleton in 1831, published books in literature and science well into the twentieth century. In 1948, the company merged with F. S. Crofts Co. to form Appleton-Century-Crofts. [back]

5. Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, & Co. were booksellers and publishers, who printed books by William Swinton (1833–1892), among other writers. [back]


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