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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 7 May 1882

Dear William O'Connor

Yours of 5th rec'd & welcomed.2 To keep you posted I make notes at random of this Osgood affair, & send herewith.3 I have an article A Memorandum at a Venture 5 or 6 pages signed by my name in the forthcoming June number North American Review, which, although hastily written & eligible to great additions, I consider a sort of rallying point or key note to my position in the Children of Adam business—will be out probably 12th to 15th of May—I shall have some proof copies, & will send you two or three soon as I get them—(It is a paid for contribution, my own price given)4—the newspapers specially like to have something up at the moment—this N A Rev. piece might give a current reason-why for your article—commencing by alluding to it5

The skeleton-facts of the Osgood publication are these. Osgood & Co. wrote to me last May ('81) asking about a new & complete edition & suggesting that they were open to proposals. I wrote back that a new & complete edition was contemplated but I wanted it distinctly understood that not a line was intended to be left out or expurgated—that the book must be printed in its entirety & that those were prerequisites opening to any negotiation.6 They wrote back asking me to send the copy. I sent it. In a few days they wrote me that they would publish it. The bargain was closed. I was to have 12½ per cent on the sales, and the contract was to run ten years. I went on to Boston (Sept. '81)7 and saw the book through the press—pub last of Nov. '81—(I think [some?] 3000 must have been published by them since then.)8

In their penultimate letter (a month or so ago) Osgood & Co: wrote me that the pieces the District Attorney specially & absolutely required to be entirely expurgated were To a Common Prostitute and A Woman Waits for Me—those left out the rest could be arranged without trouble, & he would allow the publication to continue—but the leaving out of those two pieces was indispensable.

I shall write you again, dear friend, as any thing occurs or suggests itself that I think you ought to know bearing on this matter—I am well as usual now—after a pretty bad month of illness—but mainly getting along pretty well & in good spirits considering—

Walt Whitman


  • 1. This letter is endorsed: "Answd May 9/82." It is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | Life Saving Service Bureau | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden | May | 7 | 6 PM | N.J.; Washington, D.C. | May | 8 | 4 AM | 1882 | Recd. [back]
  • 2. O'Connor's letter is apparently lost. [back]
  • 3. The "notes" begin in the second paragraph. [back]
  • 4. The price asked was $25 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 5. On May 9 O'Connor informed Whitman that he needed no excuse for the article he was writing for the New York Tribune (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 12, 1889, 331). [back]
  • 6. See the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood of May 8, 1881. [back]
  • 7. Whitman was slightly inaccurate: he arrived in Boston on August 19, 1881 (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]
  • 8. Probably Whitman overstated the number of copies printed by Osgood. In a letter to the poet on January 25, John H. Johnston quoted from a note he had received from the publisher, who had "printed three editions, 2000 copies in all." The Springfield Republican on May 23 reported that 1600 copies of Leaves of Grass had been sold "during the winter and spring" (see Whitman's letter to O'Connor of May 25, 1882). When Osgood discontinued publication in April, the royalty due to Whitman amounted to $405.50 (see Whitman's letter to Osgood & Company of April 12, 1882). Unless there was a previous payment to the poet, Osgood sold 1622 copies of the book ($405.50 @ .25 per copy). [back]
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