Whitman writes a clarification letter to William Rossetti. Rossetti wants to publish Whitman’s poems in London, but as an “expurgated” or censored edition. Whitman will not permit the censoring of his poems, and apologizes for not being more clear about his intentions. However, if an expurgated edition has already been started, he understands if it is continued, but it should not be endorsed by him.
To William M. Rossetti
Washington,|December 3, 1867.
My dear Mr. Rossetti:
I have just received, & have considered your letter of November 17, In order that there be the frankest understanding with respect to my position, I hasten to write you that the authorization in my letter of November 1st to Mr. Conway, for you, to make verbal alterations, substitute words, &c. was meant to be construed as an answer to the case presented in Mr. Conway's letter of October 12. Mr. Conway stated the case of a volume of selections in which it had been decided that the poems reprinted in London should appear verbatim, & asking my authority to change certain words in the Preface to first edition of poems, &c.
I will be candid with you, & say I had not the slightest idea of applying my authorization to a reprint of the full volume of my poems. As such a volume was not proposed, & as your courteous & honorable course & attitude called & call for no niggardly or hesitating response from me, I penned that authorization, & did not feel to set limits to it. But abstractly & standing alone, & not read in connection with Mr. C's letter of October 12, I see now it is far too loose, & needs distinct guarding.
I cannot & will not consent of my own volition, to countenance an expurgated edition of my pieces. I have steadily refused to do so under seductive offers, here in my own country, & must not do so in another country.
I feel it due to myself to write you explicitly thus, my dear Mr. Rossetti, though it may seem harsh & perhaps ungenerous. Yet I rely on you to absolve me, sooner or later. Could you see Mr. Conway's letter of October 12, you would, I think, more fully comprehend the integrity of my explanation.
I have to add that the points made in that letter in relation to the proposed reprint, as originally designed, exactly correspond with those, on the same subject, in your own late letter-& that the kind & appreciative tone of both letters is in the highest degree gratifying, & is most cordially & affectionately responded to by me-& that the fault of sending so loose an authorization has surely been, to a large degree, my own.
And now, my friend, having set myself right on that matter, I proceed to say, on the other hand, for you, & for Mr. Hotten, that if, before the arrival of this letter, you have practically invested in, & accomplished, or partially accomplished, any plan, even contrary to this letter, I do not expect you to abandon it, at loss of outlay, &c. but shall bona fide consider you blameless if you let it go on, & be carried out, as you may have arranged. It is the question of the authorization of an expurgated edition proceeding from me, that deepest engages me. The facts of the different ways, one way or another way, in which the book may appear in England, out of influences not under the shelter of my umbrage, are of much less importance to me. After making the foregoing explanation, I shall, I think, accept kindly whatever happens. For I feel, indeed know, that I am in the hands of a friend, & that my pieces will receive that truest, brightest of light & perception coming from love. In that, all other & lesser requisites become pale.
It would be better, in any Introduction, to make no allusion to me, as authorizing, or not prohibiting, &c.
The whole affair is somewhat mixed-& I write offhand to catch to-morrow's New York steamer. But I guess you will pick out my meaning. Perhaps, indeed, Mr. Hotten has preferred to go on after the original plan-which, if so, saves all trouble.
I have to add that I only wish you could know how deeply the beautiful personal tone & passages of your letter of November 17, have penetrated and touched me. It is such things that go to our hearts, and reward us, & make up for all else, for years. Permit me to offer you my friendship.
I sent you hence Nov. z3d a letter, through Mr. Conway. Also a copy of Mr. Burroughs's Notes, Mr. O'Connor's pamphlet, & some papers containing criticisms on Leaves of Grass. Also, later, a prose article of mine named Democracy, in a magazine. Let me know how the work goes on, what shape it takes, &c. Finally I charge you to construe all I have written, through my declared & fervid realization of your goodness toward me, nobleness of intention, &, I am fain to hope, personal, as, surely, literary & moral sympathy & attachment. And so, for the present, Farewell.