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Harry Buxton Forman to Walt Whitman, 26 January 1876

 loc.01620.001_large.jpg My dear Sir,

Some years ago when I had occasion to address you, you were so good as to say you should be happy to hear from me again; and as my admiration of your works and interest in whatever concerns you have rather strengthened than weakened, I feel sure you will not mind my asking one or two questions.

As a faithful student of your books, I have made it my business to obtain every edition I could, and all portraits and notable  loc.01620.002_large.jpg notable accounts and criticisms. But there is one edition in particular which I have never been able to see even,—that mentioned by Rossetti2 as having been issued in 18563 in 16 mo.[no handwritten text supplied here]The American agent to whom my last application for this was forwarded says: "I don't think there is an 1856 edition. There is one earlier or later in great demand, and at a high price, something like 25$ to 30$; but I can't find that. There was a copy auctioned the other night at something like the above".

Can you tell me whether there is or is not an edition between the  loc.01620.003_large.jpg the one set up by yourself in 18554 and that of Thayer & Eldridge5 dated 1860–61? If there is, can you give me any particulars that will help me towards buying it? Also, what is the edition that fetches 25$ to 30$? Not that of 1855; for I hear that can be had for 3 or 4.

When at my friend Mr W.B. Scott's6 a few weeks ago, I saw a proof of a fine portrait of you engraved by Linton:7 may I ask what it is from, and where it is published?

I live in hopes of publishing some day a good English Edition of your works; and my enquiries about editions  loc.01620.004_large.jpg editions are not mere bibliomania. I find they vary considerably; and my experience is that the careful collations of various versions of a poet's work is often a key as well as an incitement to the right understanding of his spirit and intent.

I am at present engaged on an edition of Shelley8 which will be the handsomest in form, and the most extensive in matter (I hope), yet published; and that takes up most of my time.

With best wishes, believe me to be, dear sir, faithfully yours, H Buxton Forman Walt Whitman Esq  loc.01620.005_large.jpg H. Buxton Forman (sent W. J. press art. May 24, '76) Jan. '76 sent paper & circ Apr 4.  loc.01620.006_large.jpg see notes Sept 3 & 5 1888

Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker: A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman Esq | Corner of Stevens & West Street | Camden | Near Philadelphia | U.S.A. It is postmarked: A P | LONDON | 1 FE | 76; A P | LONDON | 1 FE | 76; New York | FEB [illegible] | PAID ALL. [back]
  • 2. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Forman is referring to the second edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1856). [back]
  • 4. Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) was printed by the Rome brothers in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. For the cover, Whitman chose a dark green ribbed morocco cloth, and the volume included an engraving of a daguerreotype of Whitman, a full-body portrait, in working clothes and a hat. The book included a preface and twelve poems. For more information on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 5. Thayer and Eldridge was 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [back]
  • 6. William Bell Scott (1811–1890), an English poet and painter, also published several volumes of literary criticism and edited volumes of Romantic poetry. He became acquainted with Leaves of Grass through Thomas Dixon. Walt Whitman sent Scott Two Rivulets and the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass on May 18, 1876, and Memoranda During the War on June 14 or 15, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 7. William James Linton (1812–1897), a British-born wood engraver, came to the U. S. in 1867 and settled near New Haven, Connecticut. He illustrated the works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and others, wrote the "indispensable" History of Wood-Engraving in America (1882), and edited Poetry of America, 1776–1876 (London, 1878), which included eight of Whitman's poems and the poet's picture. Linton's engraving of Whitman appeared in the 1876 version of Leaves of Grass, in Complete Poems & Prose (1888–1889), and in The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902), 10 vols., 2:156; it also inspired the poem "Out from Behind This Mask." See Harold Blodgett, "Whitman and the Linton Portrait," Walt Whitman Newsletter, 4 (1958), 90–92. According to his Threescore and Ten Years, 1820 to 1890—Recollections (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894), 216–217, Linton met with Whitman in Washington and later visited him in Camden, which Whitman reported in his November 9, 1873, letter to Peter Doyle. Linton wrote of Whitman: "I liked the man much, a fine-natured, good-hearted, big fellow, . . . a true poet who could not write poetry, much of wilfulness accounting for his neglect of form." Linton's obituary in the New York Times of January 8, 1898, called Linton "the greatest wood engraver of his time, an artist in other senses, and a poet of no mean ability." [back]
  • 8. The English Romantic poet and playwright Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was the author of the well-known poems "Ozymandias" and "Ode to the West Wind." He was married first to Harriet Westbrook Shelley (1795–1816) and later to Mary Godwin Shelley (1797–1895), the author of the novel Frankenstein (1818). [back]
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