Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas J. McKee to Walt Whitman, 7 April 1888

Date: April 7, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03270

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: Kirby Little, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

Law Offices, 338 Broome St., cor. Bowery,
Mechanics' & Traders' Bank Building.
New York,
April 7th 1888. 188

Dear Sir:

I received your letter but had been looking into the matter for some days previously, Dr. Bucke1 and Mr. Johnston2 having spoken to me about your claim against Worthingon.3 The difficulty I find is this that R.Worthington failed some time since and is now unable to do business in his own name, and the business is now run by a corporation named the Worthington Co. of which Worthington's wife or some female relative is the President. The time within which to claim a forfeiture of the plates and books (two years) has run out and we are therefore limited to our action for an injunction and damages, I am therefore quietly trying to get all the facts I can as to what the "Worthington Co." has been doing with reference to your book. The Company is of some responsibility and undoubtedly have possession of the plates.

As soon as I have facts sufficient to base a sure claim I will get the injunction and money.

Yours sincerely
T. J. McKee

Very little is known about Thomas J. McKee, the New York lawyer who was looking into Whitman's claims against Richard Worthington for selling unauthorized editions of Leaves of Grass (1860). Whitman forwarded McKee's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke on April 11, 1888.


1. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Richard Worthington was a New York printer who published and sold unauthorized editions of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, printed from the plates of the 1860 edition. Whitman explains his claims against Worthington in his November 26, 1880, letter to Richard Watson Gilder. For more on Worthington and the piracy controversy, see Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 401, and Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.