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Asa K. Butts to Walt Whitman, 23 September 1876


I would like to know how much of our indebtedness to you Dec. 1st '74 has since been paid by C. P. Somerby2 who assumed the whole indebtedness. An early reply will oblige

Asa K. Butts

Asa K. Butts was a New York bookseller who went bankrupt in 1874. In the mid-1870s, Butts tried to help Whitman procure legal counsel during Whitman's difficulties with book agents who allegedly embezzled from him.


  • 1. This postal card is addressed: Mr Walt Whitman, | Camden, | N.J. It is postmarked: NEW-YORK | SEP 23 | 130 PM. [back]
  • 2. Charles P. Somerby was one of the book dealers whom Walt Whitman termed "embezzlers." In 1875, Somerby assumed the liabilities of Butts & Co.; see Whitman's February 4, 1874, letter to Asa K. Butts & Company. This proved to be a matter of embarrassment to Somerby, who, in reply to a lost letter on March 16, 1875, was unable "to remit the amount you name at present." On May 5, 1875, he wrote: "It is very mortifying to me not to be in a position to send you even a small portion of the balance your due." On October 4, 1875, Somerby sent $10—his only cash payment: "Have made every exertion to raise the $200 you require, and find it utterly impossible to get it. . . . We had hoped that you would accept our offer to get out your new book, and thus more than discharge our indebtedness to you." On April 19, 1876, Somerby reported that "I have been losing, instead of gaining." On May 6, 1876, he sent Whitman a statement pertaining to some volumes; on May 12, 1876, he included a complete financial statement: in eighteen months he had made only one cash payment, and owed Walt Whitman $215.17. The firm was still unable to make a payment on September 28, 1876. In August 1877, Whitman received a notice of bankruptcy dated August 8, 1877, from, in his own words, "assignee [Josiah Fletcher, an attorney] of the rascal Chas P. Somerby." These manuscripts are in The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]
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