Title: Bayard Taylor to Walt Whitman, 2 December 1866
Date: December 2, 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.00872
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Brett Barney, Vanessa Steinroetter, Heidi Bean, and Elise Cook
Kennett Square, Penna.
Dec. 2, 1866
My dear Whitman:
I1 find your book and cordial letter, on returning home from a lecturing tour in New York, and heartily thank you for both. I have had the first edition of your Leaves of Grass among my books, since its first appearance, and have read it many times. I may say, frankly, that there are two things in it which I find nowhere else in literature, though I find them in my own nature. I mean the awe and wonder and reverence and beauty of Life, as expressed in the human body, with the physical attraction and delight of mere contact which it inspires, and that tender and noble love of man for man which once certainly existed, but now almost seems to have gone out of the experience of the race. I think there is nothing in your volume which I do not fully comprehend in the sense in which you wrote; I always try to judge an author from his own standpoint rather than mine, but in this case the two nearly coincide. We should differ rather in regard to form than substance, I suspect. There is not one word of your large and beautiful sympathy for men, which I cannot take into my own heart, nor one of those subtle and wonderful physical affinities you describe which I cannot comprehend. I say these things, not in the way of praise, but because I know from my own experience that correct appreciation of an author is less frequent than it should be. It is welcome to me, and may be so to you.
I did not mean to write so much when I commenced, and will only say that I will be in Washington on the 27th—only for that night—and would be very glad if we can come together for awhile after my lecture is over. I am afraid I shall not arrive in time to call at the Dep't before the lecture, but if I can I will. If not, will you either come to Willard's or tell me where to find you, and oblige
1. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878), translator of Goethe's Faust, journalist, and traveler, sent his "Picture of St. John" to Whitman on November 12, 1866. He commended Whitman's "remarkable powers of expression" and "deep and tender reverence for Man." 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]