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John Townsend Trowbridge to Walt Whitman, 20 July 1867

 loc_vm.00673_large.jpg My Dear Friend,

W.H. Piper Co. of Boston2 say they would like to place your new Edition of the "Leaves"3 on their counter, & sell it as they sell other books. They would take, say, 50 copies to begin with. There is a small continuous dropping-in demand for the "Leaves,"  loc_vm.00674_large.jpg & copies of the Thayer & Eldridge4 edition sell for $5. You might write directly to W.H. Piper, using my name. He will be a good man to retail the book: he would also have undertaken to publish & push it but for the opposition of others.5

Mr. Newton6 was not able to call on you for the little volume you wished to send me by him. It came by  loc_vm.00675_large.jpg mail,—through W.D. O'C's7 agency, I perceive, with a N.Y. Times enclosed. I thank you both. I had already bought a copy of the critique, but as a friend had carried it off, I was very glad to get another.8 It is a unique & delightful little treatise: how bold & fresh & native! I hope some day to see the author.

My love to the O'Connors. I owe Wm for a  loc_vm.00676_large.jpg long & eloquent letter, received I don't dare to say how long ago. I am hungry to see you & him & Mrs. O'C.9 again: if you or they come near me, you must surely visit me.

Sincerely your friend J.T. Trowbridge  loc_vm.00671_large.jpg Atty Genls see notes Jan 10 1889 J.T.Trowbridge  loc_vm.00672_large.jpg

John Townsend Trowbridge (1827-1916) was a novelist, poet, author of juvenile stories, and antislavery reformer. Though Trowbridge became familiar with Whitman's poetry in 1855, he did not meet Whitman until 1860 when the poet was in Boston overseeing the Thayer and Eldridge edition of Leaves of Grass. He again met Whitman in Washington in 1863, when Trowbridge stayed with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in order to gather material for his biography, The Ferry Boy and the Financier (Boston: Walker and Wise, 1864); he described their meetings in My Own Story (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1903), 360–401, with recollections of noted persons. On December 11, 1863, Trowbridge presented to Chase Emerson's letter recommending Whitman; see Emerson's letter from January 10, 1863. Though Trowbridge was not an idolator of Whitman, he wrote to William D. O'Connor in 1867: "Every year confirms my earliest impression, that no book has approached the power and greatness of this book, since the Lear and Hamlet of Shakespeare" (Rufus A. Coleman, "Trowbridge and O'Connor," American Literature, 23 [1951–52], 327). For Whitman's high opinion of Trowbridge, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 3:506. See also Coleman, "Trowbridge and Whitman," PMLA, 63 (1948), 262–273.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Attorney General's Office | Washington | D.C. It is postmarked: ARLINGTON | JUL | 22 | MASS.; CARRIER | JUL | 23 | 7 P.M. [back]
  • 2. W.H. Piper & Co. was a Boston publisher located at Washington and Franklin streets. They also printed monthly literary bulletins spotlighting current literature. The firm was advertised as Whitman's Boston agent in books published in 1871 and 1872. [back]
  • 3. The fourth edition of Leaves of Grass (1867) was issued by the New York printer William E. Chapin. Often called the "workshop" edition, the volume consisted of four separately paginated books stitched together (an edited version of the 1860 Leaves of Grass, reissues of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, and a coda called Songs Before Parting) between two covers. For more on the fourth edition, see Luke Mancuso, "Leaves of Grass, 1867 edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Whitman had not initiated any movement on the topic of W. H. Piper & Co. retailing his Leaves of Grass following this letter, in which Trowbridge declared W. H. Piper "a good man to retail the book." A few years later, in Whitman's September 24, 1870, letter to Trowbridge, Whitman announced that he had "engaged in electrotyping a new edition of my book." Then, Whitman inquired to his friend of the name of the Boston publisher who had been willing to sell his book: "You sent me word a year or more ago of some Boston publisher, or bookseller, who was willing (or perhaps wished) to sell my book—Who was it?—I should like to have some such man there—to sell the book on commission, & be agent, depositor, &c—." [back]
  • 6. Alonzo Newton was a close family friend of Trowbridge, and the "Mr. Newton" here may be Alonzo or another member of the Newton family. See John Townsend Trowbridge, My Own Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903), 265–67. [back]
  • 7. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Trowbridge is likely refering to O'Connor's review of John Burroughs's Notes on Walt Whitman published in the "Current Literature" insert of the June 30, 1867, issue of the New York Times. [back]
  • 9. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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