Title: George Parsons Lathrop to Walt Whitman, 20 April 1878
Date: April 20, 1878
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.03230
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Vince Moran, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
41 Bowdoin St.1
April 20. 1878.
My Dear Sir,
I saw Mr. Burroughs2 in New York, lately, & he encouraged me to believe that I might get from you some news of your new book. I am anxious to see some proofs or early sheets, in order to write an account of it to the London Academy. If it is possible, will you oblige me in this matter?
I have confessed to Burroughs my admiration of the spirit you have breathed into the air, to enlarge & stimulate the after- comers, the young writers of America. At times, I have had an intense longing to express my gratitude to you yourself; & it was a sharp disappointment to me that I could not come down to Mrs. Gilchrist's,3 last summer, with the young Englishman, Carpenter,4 to meet you.
But I am not gifted with the faculty of praising. Where I greatly admire I am most likely to be silent; & I never felt it quite the time to speak to you. Well, this time is not come now; it hardly comes at all. The secret of our reluctance to make acknowledgement to those whom we owe much in the spiritual way is, probably, that we know it is impossible ever to give adequate utterance to such matters; & to speak at all is almost to obscure the sentiment instead of revealing it. If I myself could choose, & had done anything, I would by preference take silent recognition, though personal expression of appreciation is certainly a great balm, at times.
In writing, now, I have another project to advance, besides that of seeing your new book. I am getting up a volume of poems to be published anonymously by Messrs. Roberts Brothers,5 of Boston. Of course these are of the older & prevalent fashion. They are by a number of poets, some of whom are very well known. I don't know whether you will feel like participating in this scheme; but there are some advantages about it which may strike you. If they do, I would greatly like to have you send me two or three short pieces with a view to insertion in this book. Owing to the general character of the collection, however, your contribution would have to conform to the more usual rhythms at least as far as "Captain, my Captain!"6 Have you anything lying by you—especially of a patriotic tone?
There is time enough yet; the copy will not be prepared for the printers until September. But, if you look favorably on the plan, please let me know before long.
Meanwhile, the new book.
Very sincerely yours,
I think you have corresponded with Albert Otis, a lawyer of Boston, whom I know. You have more appreciators here than you suspect.
1. George Parsons Lathrop (1851–1898) was an American poet and novelist. For more on him, see The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, ed. Rossiter Johnson and John Howard Brown (Boston: Biographical Society, 1904) 360. [back]
2. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
3. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
4. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 1:160). For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
5. The Roberts Brothers were bookbinders and publishers in Boston. The firm began publishing around 1860. [back]
6. "O Captain! My Captain!" was one of Whitman's most popular poems, although it is atypical of his verse and style (the rhyme, meter, stanza and refrain are conventional, and the poem makes use of traditional metaphors). It first appeared in the Saturday Press on November 4, 1865. [back]