Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Harry Buxton Forman to Walt Whitman, 17 December 1891

Date: December 17, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02107

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, "see notes: quote at point in notes—late Dec '91 year Jan '92 where W & I have a talk over the death of Balestier & the prospects of a [continuance?] of negotiating," and "wrote F. 1/[12?]/91 Direct Told him to hold off abt publishing for the present.," are in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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17 Dec. 1891

The "linked sweetness" of my negociation, here in the eternal city has been so "long drawn out"2 that I I am in some fear of being myself numbered and ticketed among the antiquities of Rome. This morning, dear Walt Whitman, Have a letter from my boy Maurice,3 expressing great delight at the big book4 with your inscription—which I left out to be given to him on his birthday—the 11th. His "flight into Egypt" is still in the air; but I should not be surprised if it now came before long. He tells how, to my great regret, that that poor young man Balestier5 whom I was to have seen for you is dead—died in a hospital at Dresden, aged 26.6 When I return I must look up Heinemann;7 & find out with whom I have to treat; but it seems to me Balestier's death may change your views of the whole business.8 I hope to be home for Christmas; but it seems at least doubtful. This is a beautiful winter climate; but I want to be in the evil climate of London just now for many reasons. I hope you keep well up to the mark, dear Walt Whitman.

Yours ever
H. Burton Forman

Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker; A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey | United States of America. It is postmarked: R [illegible] | 17 | 12-8 [illegible] | 9[8?] | ER[R?]O [illegible]; NEW Y [illegible] | DEC | 28; D; [illegible] | A | ALL; CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC 29 | 6 AM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. The phrase "Linked sweetness long drawn out" comes from John Milton's (1608–1674) poem "L'Allegro." [back]

3. Maurice Buxton Forman, H. Buxton Forman's son, was a postal worker in England, a bibliographer, and an editor. He was posthumously implicated in his father's literary counterfeit enterprise. [back]

4. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]

5. Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) was an American writer who went to London, England, in 1888 as an agent for the publisher John W. Lovell. He became close friends with Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, who married Balestier's sister. Balestier joined with William Heinemann to form a publishing house in 1890, located in Leipzig, Germany, and dedicated to publishing continental editions of English writers. They launched their series, "The English Library," in 1891. Balestier died in December 1891 of typhoid fever in Dresden; he was a week away from his thirtieth birthday. [back]

6. Although Buxton Forman states that Balestier, of the publishing firm Heinemann and Balestier, died at 26, a clipping from a Boston newspaper that Whitman pasted into his December 12, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke states that Balestier died "in his thirtieth year." For more on Whitman's reaction to the news of Balestier's death, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 6, 1892[back]

7. William Heinemann (1863–1920) was an English publisher of Jewish heritage who published the series, "The English Library," with Wolcott Balestier (1861–1891) and founded the Heinemann publishing house in London. [back]

8. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke dated November 22, 1891, Whitman noted that "Heineman, Balestier, & Lovell want to purchase the American copyright [to Leaves of Grass]—I do not care to sell it as at present minded." [back]


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