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Walt Whitman to William T. Stead, 17 August 1887

First thank you again for the handsome money present of some months ago, wh' did me more good than you perhaps think for—it has helped me in meals, clothing, debts, &c., ever since. My best help however has come in my old age & paralysis from the Br: Islands. The piece in yr paper (was it early in May last?) from "a distinguished American man of letters" abt me was a very large inflation into fiction of a very little amt of fact—in spirit it is altogether, & in letter mainly untrue (abt my affairs &c.).1 My income from my books, (royalties &c.) does not reach $100 a year.2 I am now in my 69th year—living plainly but very comfortably in a little wooden cottage of my own, good spirits invariably, but physically a sad wreck, failing more and more each successive season, unable even to get abt the house without help—most of the time though without serious pain or suffering, except extreme weakness wh' I have a good deal—the paralysis that prostrated me after the Secession war (several shocks) never lifting entirely since—but leaving mentality unimpaired absolutely (thank God!) I have a few, very few, staunch & loving friends & upholders here in America. I am gathering a lot of pieces—uttered within the last six years & shall send them out under the name of November Boughs before long—a little book (200 pages or less) some new pieces—a sort of continuation or supplement. Then I think of printing a revised ed'n of complete writings (Leaves of Grass, Specimen Days & Collect & November Boughs all in one volume) soon. Please accept personal thanks from me (never mind the literary) & I know you will accept the impromptu Note in the same spirit in wh' it is written. Best thanks and love to all my British helpers, readers & defenders.

William Thomas Stead (1849–1912) was a well-known English journalist and editor of The Pall Mall Gazette in the 1880s. He was a proponent of what he called "government by journalism" and advocated for a strong press that would influence public opinion and affect government decision-making. His investigative reports were much discussed and often had significant social impact. He has sometimes been credited with inventing what came to be called "tabloid journalism," since he worked to make newspapers more attractive to readers, incorporating maps, illustrations, interviews, and eye-catching headlines. He died on the Titanic when it sank in 1912.


  • 1. Stead had printed passages from a "private letter" on May 6, which detailed the American supporters of Whitman: George W. Childs, Carnegie, Burroughs. The author—perhaps Moncure Conway—asserted that "a rich Philadelphian told me today that he had given himself, off and on, a thousand dollars," and concluded: "All this talk of the necessity of raising money by subscriptions abroad, with the idea that he won't be taken care of at home, is ridiculous"; see American Literature, 33 (1961), 70. See also Whitman's letter to Henry Norman of January 3, 1887. [back]
  • 2. In 1887, Whitman's income amounted to at least $2,575.98: royalties, $131.91; lectures, $620.00; sales of books, $74.00 (See Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence [1886–1889], 4:138). [back]
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