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Walt Whitman to James R. Osgood & Company, 12 September 1881

 yal.00110.001_large.jpg J R Osgood & Co​ : Dear Sirs

The documents rec'd​ —but I cannot agree or convey copyright as therein specified. Of course you must be thoroughly fortified in your investment & publication of the book—& I will do any & every thing to secure you to your fullest satisfaction (if not already—which I thought the case—distinctly, amply, legally secured by my letters in the correspondence between us ante)—But the copyright of Leaves of Grass must remain absolutely & solely in my own hands as hitherto.1

The steel engraving—just as good as new I believe—I send herewith. It is required in the book (to face page 29)—in fact is involved as part of the poem. If desired I will sell it to you, as a necessary part of the stock for issuing the book—price $50 cash, & 20 copies of book (without royalty)—I shall want 200 prints from the plate also—(the printer can make that number extra & give me)2

The book will make 390 (to '95) pages. Seems to me every way best for us both that it sh'd​ be put at two dollars—& that it can well be afforded at that price.

Before putting in any thing in adv't'mt​ or circular advertising L. of G. let me be consulted—Show me first.

Dont​ forget carefully attending to the English copyright through Trübner—as we concluded about it the other day.

I want to say over again that while I reserve to the fullest degree all my own rights &  yal.00110.002_large.jpg  yal.00110.003_large.jpg the means to maintain them, you are to be, & I hereby make & confirm you, the sole issuers and publishers of my completed Leaves of Grass—that I shall coöperate strenuously & loyally in the enterprise—& to add that I do not fix any term or limit of years, because it is my wish that the publication by you, on the conditions & payments of royalty already settled between us, may, while those conditions are fulfilled, continue on and on, quite indefinitely & without limit, as being (I hope) better for you, & better for me too.

Should you wish any thing more in detail let me know. Of course any further points, specifications &c. that may arise as time elapses, or as circumstances or our wishes require, are open to both of us, to be added, modified, revoked or what not, as we may join & agree.

Walt Whitman  yal.00110.004_large.jpg


  • 1. The firm agreed on the following day, September 13, 1881, to make the changes (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 8:284). The contract was executed on October 1: the price of the edition was to be $2, the royalty was twenty-five cents on every copy sold, the copyright was to remain in the poet's hands, and Osgood & Co. was to be the sole publisher for ten years (The Library of Congress; The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, 8:285–286). [back]
  • 2. Osgood & Co. replied on the next day that the plate (the portrait in the first edition) was worn, and that it would cost "$15. or $20. to put it into a condition suitable to use." Whitman received $40 from the firm on September 30 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood & Company of September 15, 1881. [back]
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