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Walt Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 10 May 1860

Dear Brother,

I have nothing particular to write about, yet I know you will be glad to hear from me anyhow. The book is finished in all that makes the reading part, and is all through the press complete—It is electrotyped—that is, by a chemical process, a solution of copper, silver, zinc, &c. is precipitated in a "bath," so as to cover the face of the plates of type all over, and make it very much harder and more enduring. Plates finished by that process wear well for hundreds of thousands of copies, and are probably a neater impression. But perhaps you know about it yourself.

Thayer & Eldridge have put through 1000 copies, for the first pop. They have very accurate ideas of the whole matter. They expect it to be a valuable investment, increasing by months and years—not going off in a rocket way, (like "Uncle Tom's Cabin.")1 The typographical appearance of the book has been just as I directed it, in every respect. The printers and foremen thought I was crazy, and there were all sorts of supercilious squints (about the typography I ordered, I mean)—but since it has run through the press, they have simmered down. Yesterday the foreman of the press-room (Rand's,2 an old establishment where all the best work is done,) pronounced it, in plain terms, the freshest and handsomest piece of typography that had ever passed through his mill—I like it, I think, first rate—though I think I could improve much upon it now. It is quite "odd," of course. As to Thayer & Eldridge they think every thing I do is the right thing. We are just now in "suspenders" on account of the engraving. I have about decided, though, to have 1000 copies printed from it, as it is—and then let Schoff,3 the engraver, finish it afterwards—I do not know for certain whether it is a good portrait or not—The probability is that the book will be bound and ready, May 19.

I make Thayer & Eldridge crack on the elegant workmanship of the book, its material, &c. but I won't allow them to puff the poetry—though I had quite a hard struggle—as they had prepared several tremendous puff advertisements—altogether ahead of Ned Buntline and the "Ledger"4—I persuaded them to give me the copy to make some little corrections—which I did effectually by going straight to my lodgings, and putting the whole stuff in the fire—Oh, I forgot to tell you, they have printed a very neat little brochure, (pamphlet,) of 64 pages, called "Leaves of Grass Imprints," containing a very readable collection of criticisms on the former issues—This is given away gratis, as an advertisement and circular. Altogether, Jeff, I am very, very much satisfied and relieved that the thing, in the permanent form it now is, looks as well and reads as well (to my own notion) as I anticipated—because a good deal, after all, was an experiment—and now I am satisfied.

And how goes it with you, my dear? I watched the N. Y. papers to see if Spinola's5 bill passed—but it didn't, of course, or I should of heard of it in many ways. So you must be on the works still—If I get a chance I will take a look at the Boston Works before I leave. The water is almost exactly like the Brooklyn water in taste. I got Mother's letter6—tell Mother I may not write next Monday, as I am in hopes to be home, I can't tell exactly what day, but through the week. Oh the awful expense I have been under here, Jeff, living the way I have, hiring a room, and eating at restaurants—7 cents for a cup of coffee, and 19 cts for a beefsteak—and me so fond of coffee and beefsteak. Tell mother I think it would have been worth while for her to have moved on here, and boarded me—

I have had a very fair time, though, here in Boston—Very, very many folks I meet I like much—I have never seen finer—they are fine in almost every respect—very friendly, very generous, very good feeling, and of course intelligent people—The great cramper of the Bostonian is, though, to be kept on the rack by the old idea of respectability, how the rest do, and what they will say. There are plenty of splendid specimens of men come from the other New England states to settle here, especially from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, &c, that if they would let themselves be, and only make that better and finer, would beat the world. For there is no denying that these Yanks are the first-class race. But, without exception, they all somehow allow themselves to be squeezed into the stereotype mould, and wear straight collars and hats, and say "my respects"—like the rest. Of course I cannot walk through Washington street, (the Broadway here,) without creating an immense sensation.

I sent a couple of papers to Han this morning. Oh how much I would like to see her once more7—and I must, this summer—After I recruit a while home, I shall very likely take a tour, partly business and partly for edification, through all the N[ew] E[ngland] states—then I shall see Han—I shall write to her before I leave here—and do you write also, Jeff—don't fail—Should you write to me, in response to this, you must write so that I would get the letter not later than Wednesday morning next—as I feel the fit growing upon me stronger and stronger to move—And the fare is only $3 now from here to New York, cabin passage, in the boat—Besides I could go dead head if I was to apply—Jeff, I feel as if things had taken a turn with me, at last—Give my love to Mat, and all my dear brothers, especially Georgie.



  • 1. Published as a serial in 1851-1852, and as a book in 1852. [back]
  • 2. Rand and Avery, printers. This firm also printed the 1881 edition. It is still in business as Rand Avery-Gordon Taylor, Inc. [back]
  • 3. Stephen Alonzo Schoff (1818–1904) was famous for his engraved portraits of William Penn, Emerson, and others. [back]
  • 4. "Ned Buntline" was the pseudonym of Edward Z. C. Judson (1823–1886), the first of the dime novelists and the originator of the "Buffalo Bill" stories. The New York Ledger, under the editorship of Robert Bonner, was a popular weekly which featured serials, sentimental poems, and moral essays. In 1860 its circulation was 400,000; see Mott, A History of American Magazines, 2:356–363. [back]
  • 5. On April 16, Jeff had written of impending changes at the Brooklyn Water Works: "We Water Works men are all trembling in our boots, the prospects being that we are all going to be kicked out, neck and heels, from the chief down to the Axeman. It seems that Mr F. Spinola started a bill at Albany some time last winter trying to oust the new commissioners. . . . It has passed one house, and I guess the chances are abt even for its passing the other" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). The New York legislature had adjourned on April 17, and the New York Tribune on the following day was "reverently thankful": "We do not believe it possible that another body so reckless not merely of right but of decency—not merely corrupt but shameless—will be assembled in our halls of legislation within the next ten years."Francis B. Spinola (1821–1891) was an alderman in Brooklyn from 1846 to 1853, a member of the New York legislature from 1855 to 1861, a brigadier general during the Civil War, and a United States Congressman from 1887 to 1891. [back]
  • 6. On May 3, Mrs. Whitman related family gossip and told of a recent visit from Hector Tyndale (see "Letter from Walt Whitman to Sarah Tyndale, 20 June 1857," Correspondence, 1:42–44), who "behaved very friendly indeed" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]
  • 7. Hannah wrote to her mother on June 1: "I have been very much disappointed because Walt did not come to see us. I had felt so glad, so pleased, had spoke of it so often. I watched the cars every night . . . I will not tell you how bad I felt. you at home would think me silly and childish" (The Library of Congress). [back]
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