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The Truth Seeker Company to Walt Whitman, 21 January 1891

 loc_vm.00397_large.jpg Dear Sir

The Ingersoll1–Field2 Discussion3 is out of print in paper. We have copies in cloth—at 100

Will you please send to Wm. J. Nicolay, Minier, Ill.4 1 Complete Works of Walt Whitman5 1 vol. Octavo, hf. cloth—

McKay6 says this book is owned by Mr Whitman & that he can only give us 20% on it. Hope you can do better—thro  loc_vm.00398_large.jpg Mr Whitman, as this book is to be sold again, and we will have to give Mr Nickolay a discount. Please send to him the cheapest way, & send us bill.

Yours Truth Seeker Co B.

The Truth Seeker Company is the longest continually operating small press in the U.S., and its newspaper is the oldest freethought publication. It was founded by D. M. Bennett (1818–1882) in Paris, Illinois, in 1873. He moved the publication office to New York City and ran it as well as edited its newspaper The Truth Seeker until his death. Eugene M. Macdonald (1855–1909) was publisher and editor from 1883 to 1909


  • 1. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 2. Henry Martyn Field (1822–1907) was a clergyman and the author of several travel books. He also wrote The History of the Atlantic Telegraph (1866) and served as the editor and publisher of The Evangelist, a Presbyterian periodical, from 1854 to 1898. [back]
  • 3. This is a reference to the book The Field-Ingersoll Discussion, a collection of articles on faith and agnosticism by Henry Martyn Field (1822–1907) and the orator and agnostic, Robert Ingersoll (1833–1899) that were published in The North American Review. The book was published in New York in 1888 by the journal's editor Charles Allen Thorndike Rice and The North American Review Publishing Company. [back]
  • 4. William J. Nicolay (b. 1835) grew up in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and began his career as a teacher before deciding to attend medical school. Nicolay then became a homeopathic physician and established a practice in Minier, Illnois. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 6. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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