Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to George and Charles Merriam of G. & C Merriam Company, 17 April [1849]

Date: April 17, [1849]

Whitman Archive ID: prc.00152

Source: Private Collection of Madeline Kripke. The transcription presented here is derived from Madeline Kripke and Ed Folsom, "A Newly Discovered 1849 Whitman Letter to the 'Messrs. Merriam,'" Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 38 (Fall 2020), 118–125. 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, "sent an order Newman & asked him to return order on Newman[?]," and "Brooklyn Freeman news," are in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Erel Michaelis, Kassie Jo Baron, Jeff Hill, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley

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"Freeman" office1
Brooklyn, L.I.,
April 17

Messrs. Merriam,

I have published one long notice, (written by myself,) and the two short notices sent me from you—as you have doubtless seen by the papers I sent you.—All have been printed in the editorial columns.—

But I have not yet received my copy of the Dictionary.—I have called several times at Mr. Newman's,2 but they have either not had any copy in Russia binding, or were averse to giving me one.3—If convenient, upon the receipt of this, I wish you would envelope a Dictionary, and put on it my address (as below) and send it to Newman's—labelled "to be called for."—Let it be Russia bound—black, or some other dark color.—I shall publish the notices received the other day—and from time to time, what others you send.—

I still have the note you wrote me, embodying an order on Mr. Newman for a Dictionary— which order I will give him, when my copy arrives.—

Walter Whitman

Publisher "Freeman"
106 Myrtle avenue, Brooklyn L.I.

George (1803–1880) and Charles Merriam (1806–1887) were booksellers in Springfield, Massachusetts. They established a publishing company called G & C Merriam, Co. in Springfield in or about 1831 (some sources cite 1833). Following the death of the lexicographer Noah Webster (1758–1843), they acquired the rights to Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language from J. S. and C. Adams. They proceeded to release revised and updated versions (as well as quarto and university editions) throughout the next four decades. Merriam's younger brother Homer would later join them in this effort. Today, the Merriam brothers' company exists as Merriam-Webster and continues to publish editions of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. For more imformation on the Merriams and their company, see G & C Merriam Co. records and correspondence, Connecticut Historical Society and G. & C. Merriam Company Collection, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.


1. In 1848, a few months after Whitman returned to Brooklyn, he became the editor of a political newspaper called the Brooklyn Freeman. Although Whitman's association with the free-soil paper lasted only a year, his editorship of the Freeman is notable because it includes some of his most passionate antislavery journalism. Published initially with the financial backing of Whitman's friend, Judge Samuel V. Johnson, the Freeman commenced publication as a weekly newspaper on September 9, 1848. It became a daily paper in 1849 under the new title of the Brooklyn Daily Freeman. Only two issues of the paper are known to have survived. Despite the Free-Soilers' defeat in the 1848 presidential election and again in the spring of 1849, Whitman continued to publish the Freeman. Following a failed attempt to back Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s run for presidency, Whitman published his resignation from the Brooklyn Freeman on September 11, 1849. For more information see Jon Panish, ""Brooklyn Freeman," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Mark Haskell Newman (1806–1851) was the New York book agent for the Merriam brothers. In addition to selling books, Newman was also a publisher. His publishing house dealt primarily with school textbooks. His office at 199 Broadway was designated as the place for the Merriams to send the copy of their new Webster's to Whitman. [back]

3. The dictionary finally procured from the Merriam brothers (with its fine, dark Russia leather binding) became Whitman’s preferred dictionary when he was writing the poems for the first three editions of Leaves of Grass. To read more about Whitman’s lifelong fascination with dictionaries, see Ed Folsom, "Dictionaries," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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