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William Wilde Thayer to Walt Whitman, 19 April 1861

My Dear Walt.

Family sickness has prevented an early reply to yours of 12th rec'd three or four days ago.1

Horace Wentworth has bought of the assignees the stock of T&E.2 In said stock are Plates of Leaves of Grass. These plates were included in a lot of plates sometime ago mortgaged to Isaac Tower for money we raised of him. The mortgage purports to belong to Isaac Tower but from all we have seen Wentworth was the real mortgagee & used Tower for a blind—so that the plates are in W's hands fast & tight. The assignees threatened at one time to break up the mortgage so as to have Tower's claim come in on a par with those of the general creditors. But as Wentworth has now possession of our old stock and is actually doing business at 116 Wash. Street, the presumption is that some compromise has been effected between Tower (?) & the assignees  loc.00584.002.jpgWentworth/Tower may have consented to release the mortgage & have thus secured a good bargain from the assignees.—The upshot is that your plates are in Wentworth's hands.—

I think you had best correspond with Wentworth & he will answer by hand of our old book keeper Mr. Honeybun whom W. has hired—

As Wentworth is an illiterate man and knows not real merit in literature I think he will not be inclined go to expense extra to make additions to L of G and yet he may—can't tell. You had best write him. He is a man who loves to be wiley sometimes & therefore may defer giving you a deffinite​ answer to your questions of him—especially in view of the present unsettled condition of the Country. Even  loc.00584.003.jpgafter he makes a promise, the fulfilment is often very tardy3.—

He is our, or rather my bitter and relentless enemy & therefore it would be a difficult matter for either myself or Eldridge to get any satisfactory knowledge of his intentions with regard to you.

Things are decidedly uninteresting with me. I have known the want of money sadly since our failure and the value of true friendship. I have suffered much mentally; have endured severe discipline; my darling wife has been sick a great deal, and though uncomplaining at my misfortunes, yet worried and harrassed​ by our deprivations. I have been unsuccessful in getting employment, though I now hope for a clerkship in our Boston Post office.—I have the "war fever" very severely, which unlike other fevers with me preys inward and does not show  loc.00584.004.jpgitself externally. Nothing but the home duties which for the present are absolute, prevent a speedy offering of myself to the Government as a soldier. True I might not prove strong enough for much hard work but I could fire my gun once and die, for my country.

My soul swells as I contemplate the mighty issues involved in this contest. They are not merely the stability of this Government, but the Abolition of slavery which alone is to send this nation to a most glorious destiny. Either under one confederacy or two, we shall have no peace until slavery is crushed out, even if negotiations for peace between the two sections, permit slavery to still live.

Mrs. Thayer desires to be remembered to her dear friend Walt Whitman with her best regards for that genial soul and strong man. She would once more like to meet  loc.00584.005.jpghim face to face.—I'm sure I would.

I have intended many times to write you and as often "backed out." I wrote you one letter and did not send it because It was not appropriate to your feelings & my own circumstances.

My dear Walt I am not yet conquered. I have everything external to crush me and stinging poverty to freeze my heart, but my day is coming. Perhaps for a year I shall live an isolated life, but the events are now combining that shall develope​ for me a destiny unlike my past career. I know not where my "star" will travel, but that it will course through space & hover over the particular  loc.00584.006.jpgfield of my marked out labors I do not doubt. That field will be extensive and arduous, but not in business life. I live in hope, golden hope that stands by me still.

Wentworth has done all he could to prejudice the creditors against us and has lied about us so that many think we are swindlers. I guess if we had been neither Charley nor myself would be as poor as we are. The assignees acknowledged after examining our affairs that we have not committed the wholesale robbery ascribed to us by W.—Yet with all my personal enemies to traduce me, I care not, for conscious within, that their aspersions are unfounded I can afford to be victorious and live. I will not be crushed. I will live. God bless you my dear man. How I wish I could bless you substantially with a hundred "spot" but who knows but that in the future I may  loc.00584.007.jpgbe able to be a substantial friend to you.—Well good bye for now. I will write you again soon. Charley sends regards.

Yours Truly W.W. Thayer

Newcomb has proved himself a damned traitor to our interests.


  • 1. William Wilde Thayer was part owner of Thayer and Eldridge, the Boston publishing firm responsible for the third edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1860). For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see "Thayer, William Wilde [1829–1896] and Charles W. Eldridge [1837–1903]." [back]
  • 2. Horace Wentworth was Thayer and Eldridge's former boss who later acted as the firm's creditor. Wentworth received the plates of Leaves of Grass as compensation for his financial loss when Thayer and Eldridge went bankrupt in 1861. [back]
  • 3. For Wentworth's offer to sell the plates of Leaves of Grass and Leaves of Grass Imprints to Whitman, see his November 27, 1866, letter. [back]
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