Title: Bayard Taylor to Walt Whitman, 12 November 1866
Date: November 12, 1866
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.00871
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Brett Barney, Vanessa Steinroetter, Heidi Bean, and Elise Cook
Kennett Square, Penna.
Nov. 12, 1866
My dear Sir:
I1 send to you by the same mail which takes this note, a copy of my last poem The Picture of St. John. I do not know whether the subject of the poem (the growth and development of the artist-nature, and its relation to life) will much interest you, but I hope you will here and there find something drawn immediately from nature. I am, at least, not aware that anything in the book is simulated or forced: whether successful or not, it is an honest conscientious effort.
I value, above all things, sincerity in literature; hence I am not one of those who overlook your remarkable powers of expression, your broad, vital reverence for humanity, because some things you have said repel them. The age is over-squeamish, and, for my part, I prefer the honest nude to the suggestive half-draped. I think the proper question to be asked is: does a certain thing need to be said? If so, let it be said! The worst form of immorality, I have found, veils itself in decent words.
There is one quality I recognize in you, which warmly and constantly attracts me. That is, your deep and tender reverence for Man—your unwearied, affectionate, practical fraternity. There is too little of this quality in the world, and the race will be better and happier in proportion as it is manifested.
I shall be in Washington on the 27th of December, to lecture, and hope that I shall then be able to meet you personally. If you can spare me an hour or two after the lecture, you will greatly oblige
1. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878) was a translator of Goethe's Faust, journalist, and traveler. His letter of December 2, 1866, was even more unreserved in its praise. Later Taylor's enthusiasm for Whitman was to change dramatically. In The Echo Club (2d ed., 1876), 154–158, 168–169, Taylor burlesqued Whitman's poetry. William Sloane Kennedy lists him among Whitman's "Bitter and Relentless Foes and Villifiers"; see The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 288. See also Whitman's November 18, 1866, letter to Taylor and Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 1 January 1867, in Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence (New York: New York University Press, 1961–69), 1:305. [back]