Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Thomas Dixon, 30 June 1870

Date: June 30, 1870

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:99–100. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01446

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




June 30
'7012

I must first render you3 thanks for the box of books, as they have at last reached me in good condition—The delay in their arrival is unaccountable. But they are welcome, and will all be read in due time, and with sincere gratitude to the donor. Both your letters also reached me, and were cordially welcomed. I should have acknowledged them at date, only that for many weeks I have been disabled from writing & from any clerical work, by reason of a wound in the right hand, which is now better.

There is nothing new or noteworthy in my own affairs. I still remain in the Attorney General's office here—still enjoying good health. I keep fashioning & shaping my books at my leisure, & hope to put them in type the current year.

You speak of my prose preface to first "Leaves of Grass." I am unable to send it you, having not a copy left. It was written hastily while the first edition was being printed in 1855—I do not consider it of permanent value.4 I shall send you, (probably in the mail that follows this—certainly very soon,) a piece written some while since by me on "Democracy"5—in which Mr. Carlyle's "shooting Niagara"6 is alluded to. I shall also send an article by an English lady,7 put in print here, that may interest you.

I am writing this at my desk in the Treasury building here, an immense pile, in which our office occupies rooms. From my large open window I have an extensive view of sky, Potomac river, hills & fields of Virginia, many, many miles. We are having a spell of that oppressive heat which so much falls upon us here.


Notes:

1. This draft letter is endorsed, "Thomas Dixon | 15 Sunderland | st." [back]

2. Thomas Dixon, an uneducated corkcutter of Sunderland, England, was one of Walt Whitman's early English admirers. In 1856 he had bought copies of Leaves of Grass from a book peddler; one of these copies was later sent by William B. Scott to William Michael Rossetti. Dixon vigorously supported cultural projects and was in effect the ideal laborer of Ruskin, who printed many of his letters to the corkcutter in Time and Tide (1867). See Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, ed. W. Minto (1892), 2:32–33, 267–269; Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 15–17; The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (1905), 17:lxxviii–lxxix.

On the basis of the lengthy correspondence of this impassioned man now preserved in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., it seems clear that Dixon must have written to Walt Whitman in 1869 or earlier and asked him to inquire about the whereabouts of his sister. (Walt Whitman's reply is apparently lost.) They exchanged photographs at this time, Dixon's being dated October, 1869. In Dixon's first extant letter, dated December 23, 1869, he wrote: "I love nearly all the Men thou lovest, and all the Books and thoughts that seem congenial to thee, long hath been so to me. I gaze at the Sea while I eat my food and think of thee. . . . and often while I gaze thereon I think of thee, and how thou loves that Sea, and how to thee it hath been more then to me." On January 9, 1870, Dixon informed Rossetti that he was enclosing a copy of Walt Whitman's portrait, and that Walt Whitman had sent "a very nice letter of sympathy for Mother's death, and of friendship to me" (Rossetti Papers, 508). In June, Dixon sent books which included Mazzini, Carlyle, and various works on oriental religion. He asked for Walt Whitman's opinion of them on July 27, 1871. The fervor of the corkcutter was evident in his letter of September 8, 1874: "Ruskin is also working hard too to help on a nobler life, and one not much unlike the one you also long to see. so many souls laboring for one end must someday effect the accomplishment of the 'Golden Days' so long sung, so long toiled for, prayed for—and fought for!!" When Walt Whitman wrote again to Dixon in 1876 (the letters are not known), the latter resumed the correspondence with his customary intensity. "I see thee now while I write this," he wrote on February 16, 1876. "I look into thine eyes. I grasp thy hand. Thou grasps it hard, thou looks upon me with a smile. I hear thee say: 'All is peace now, young man, the Storm is indeed past. I live once again in the Souls and memories of these Hero's and all is Well!'" Later, on June 17, 1876, he reported that in addition to selling and circulating many copies he had placed Walt Whitman's poem in the town libraries at Shields, Manchester, New Castle, Warrington, Liverpool, and Plymouth. "So you see," he concluded modestly, "the little band's been a Working one." [back]

3. Thomas Dixon (1831–1880), a corkcutter of Sunderland, England, was one of Walt Whitman's early English admirers. In 1856 he had bought copies of Leaves of Grass from a book peddler; one of these copies was later sent by William B. Scott to William Michael Rossetti. Dixon vigorously supported cultural projects and represented the ideal laborer of John Ruskin, who printed many of his own letters to the corkcutter in Time and Tide (1867). See Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, ed. W. Minto (1892), II, 32–33, 267–269; Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 15–17; The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (1905), XVII, lxxviii–lxxix. [back]

4. Dixon had requested this preface on May 28, 1870. After Horace Traubel read this letter in 1888, Walt Whitman commented: "I may have underrated the preface: it appears to have some very likely friends" (Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 2:311). [back]

5. Walt Whitman first solicited this piece to the editors of the Galaxy on September 7, 1867[back]

6. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle in Specimen Days, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View." [back]

7. Anne Gilchrist's "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" appeared in the May issue of the Boston Radical, 7 (1870), 345–359. [back]


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