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Charles P. Somerby to Walt Whitman, 16 April 1875

 loc_jc.00261_large.jpg Mr. Whitman, Dear Sir,

We are in receipt of your letter and regret, exceedingly, that we are unable to remit the amount you name at present. We have been unable to collect, and our statements of last month have failed to bring us in a quarter of what is due. This is only a temporary embarrassment but it places us in an unpleasant position for the time.

We hope to be able to forward the amount due you soon  loc_jc.00262_large.jpg and will certainly do so at our earliest possible opportunity

We hope to visit Philadelphia soon and will not fail to call upon you. Hoping that our failure to raise the money will not inconvenience you seriously

We remain Yours very Sincerely C. P. Somerby

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.


  • 1. A stamp of Charles P. Somerby's name has been superimposed over the original company name on this stationery. The stationery was formerly for Asa K. Butts & Co. In the mid-1870s, Butts tried to help Whitman procure legal counsel during the poet's difficulties with book agents who allegedly embezzled from him. In 1875, Somerby assumed the liabilities of Butts & Co.; see Whitman's February 4, 1874, letter to Asa K. Butts & Company. [back]
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