Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to David McKay, [(?).(?).1889?]

Date: [(?).(?).1889?]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07743

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:410. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

David McKay
9th st. opp: P O Phila:1


Please send me over by bearer, twelve copies Leaves of Grass, (with the Annex)2

Walt Whitman

the pocket-b'k3copy I send is a present to you from me—

David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Since the note refers to Whitman's two recently published books, it seems logical to assign it to 1889 [for further clarification of the assigned date, see the second note below]. According to Edwin Haviland Miller's tabulation, based upon his letters and his entries in The Commonplace-Book, the poet's income in 1889 amounted to at least $1,447.91: royalties, $626.47; sales of books, $245.89; payments for articles and poems, $95.00; and gifts, $480.55. (The figures on book sales are necessarily to some extent conjectural, based on the assumption that he charged uniform prices for his various books.) The entries in The Commonplace-Book in 1889, like those in 1888, are not complete, as discrepancies between amounts deposited in the bank and notations of receipts of money are commonplace (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

2. Whitman is requesting a copy of one of McKay's printings of the sixth (1881) edition of Leaves of Grass, with the "annex" "Sands at Seventy." Because this letter is undated, it could be argued that the poet was asking for the 1884 issue of the 1881 edition (the first issue published by McKay). However, he is more likely asking for the 1888 issue, which dates the letter closer to 1889. The postscript reference to the "pocket-b'k copy" Whitman gave to McKay with the letter makes the year certain and eliminates the months January through May. The poet had the special pocket-book edition printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889. See Whitman's May 16 1889 letter to Frederick Oldach. [back]

3. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]


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