Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 31 January 1888

Date: January 31, 1888

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

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03159

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6
page image
image 7
page image
image 8


Jan 31, 1888
Richmond.

Dear Walt;

The month Ends today—I have been here five weeks. How time fugits! I begin to feel restless to begin another seige of work. But mother is plotting ways to keep me here. I should like to stay with her. She has so much to say, & remembers everything of our family life so clearly. And then, she is lonesome. My sister has gone home. My brother is busy in the shop; & the children in school. I hate to leave her with her uncertain step, & to the necessity of sitting alone to brood over the past. She dont exactly see why I can not do my work here. I explain; she understands for the moment; & then returns to [the?] charge next day or two. Still, finally, she accepts the inevitable, and as the old hymn says—"Puts a cheerful courage on–."

I am modeling a small bust of her. I tell her she has eyebrows like yours; cheeks like [Shillales?]; and a double wallop under chin like Dr. Holmes.1 Her eyes have sort of grown together at the sides, so only a round black spot appears. I shall bring on my bust of her when I come. My sister has a great amount of executive ability, and though moral & liberal in all religious matters, almost to the verge of non-believing, she has the bump of discipline & order big enough to serve the German Empire. Mother & the rest of us are inclined to be lax in all such matters. So you see what's the matter when she (sister) is here. But, More's the matter now she's gone, and I assume charge. My brother's wife died some years ago, leaving 3 children. The boy, Henry, 16 years old, spends much of his time since I have been here, "drawing Walter Whitman." I often look in upon you silently, & see you and the room: The sitting room with Mrs. Davis,2 the cat & dog; robin & [bantams?]. And out beyond, the "hens and things"—minus one thing! And so, how is Aunt [Mary?]. Somehow with her [ croneing?] and her stealthy, flat footed tread, I can't avoid seeing her among the immortals— "her back yard when I was a housekeeper and my cellar floor, was always clean enough to eat your dinner on." Yes yes; how well she'd keep these golden stairs & pavements of opal & pearl in Paradise! Tell her when she comes around that I enquire about her, & wish her good health & happy days for many years yet—

And Mrs. Mapes3, & little Johnie, is it? I presume they, (& Johnie's sister) still drop in & sometimes "take a bite." And the other lady & her children—is it [Mrs?] [Cady?] ? No; I never quite got her name.

And of course Mrs D. keeps everything in apple pie order. Ah! the blessed old—4. Long may it wave!— Long may you wave it!

I suppose friend Harned5 puts in an appearance often. He is quite a remarkable man, I think. As the old puritan preacher Robinson (was it?) said of the "Bible, "I believe more light will break out of it when we are free." "or words to that effect. So when H. gets free of his many encumbering, political, judicial (I don't mean just that—can I say lawicial?), calls & duties, as I think he may one day, and finds his way into the serener atmosphere & more congenial line of thought. I expect more & more of the real light within him will break out of him. He has a vast deal of good insights, and seems to select the good things you have done with more unerring vision than anyone I have met.

The Smiths6 are I venture good friends, but I have yet to discern that they know the "track of the old [varmount?]."

And Tom Donaldson7—a surprising sort of a man—saying so many good things—with insights that don't seem to belong to him (physically viewed.)

Well. I am about sending you the Hicks.8 I shall mail to you to-morrow the engravings & also a little sketch in oil on a box [carr?] that I made from an old photo of a steel engraving brought me by a Mr.[Hines?] who heard Elias preach when he was 10 years old. He says my copy is quite as good as the original. I dont think so myself, tho' it aproximates. You understand I have made two busts of Hicks—large & small. The large one is liked best—the one I send— I want it in time for the [Fidelity?] boys to use in case you lecture for them. And then I would like it on exhibition at the Friends bookstore. Mr. [illegible]ston's brother has enquired and can arrange that part. In case anyone should like a copy. I should [illegible] to use this one for getting others cast—replace it with new one.

Mr. Schultz, an old Hicksite likes the big one much. He was 16 when Elias came here in 28, & remembers his stoping overnight at his father's. He says he thinks he may find some old letters Hicks wrote about that time. He knows that there were some & he once read them. "Elias was a great man. A wonderful preacher—why, one Sunday before he finished his sermon tears were coursing down all our cheeks, young & old. His doctrine was the simplest & most effective—all sided, far reaching: the doctrine of the inner voice, this will guide every one who listens to it & follows its teaching, into all truth & goodness."

As soon as I can I shall see all the old friends hereabouts, & glean such memoranda as they may have for your consideration. The wonder to all is when I meet these saintly old fellows why they are Hicksites: one would suppose they would take a hint from him & stand by their own inner lights. Instead they try to tell me the way Elias expounded the Scriptures. Strange too he should expound scriptures when the Spirit & he were closely intimate. But—

Do you hear anything of the bust that went to England? Seems to me they are a long while getting it on exhibition.

I hear good reports about the one in B from friends who have been in to see it. But no word as to its being offered to the library.9

Regards to Mrs. D—And to all "whomever they are"

Keep "so, so," "fair to middlin" anyway, & as much better as may be.

Truly,
Morse


Correspondent:
Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109.

Notes:

1. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894) was a Bostonian author, physician, and lecturer. One of the Fireside Poets, he was a good friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as John Burroughs. Towards Whitman's poetry, Holmes remained ambivalent. He married Amelia Lee Jackson in 1840 and they had three children, including the later Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. For more information, see "Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1809-1894)," (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, eds. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 280). [back]

2. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Mary E. Mapes was a neighbor friend of Mary Davis and sometimes took care of Whitman's house when Mrs. Davis was away. [back]

4. At this point of the letter, Morse has included a drawing of a teapot. [back]

5. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Morse is referring here to the family of Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898). Smith, his wife Hannah, and their children were all friends and supporters of Whitman. For more about Smith and his family, see Christina Davey, "Smith, Robert Pearsall (1827–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Thomas Donaldson (1843–1898) was a Philadelphia attorney whom Whitman met in 1882. Donaldson helped to facilitate meetings between Whitman and Bram Stoker in the 1880s, and raised money for the purchase of a horse and buggy for Whitman in 1885. He also wrote a biography of Whitman titled Walt Whitman: The Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896). For more about Whitman's relationship with Donaldson, see Steven Schroeder, "Donaldson, Thomas (1843–1898)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 185. [back]

8. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

9. One of Morse's plaster sculptures of Whitman had been sent to Boston, with the hope it would be placed in the public library. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.