Title: W. L. Shoemaker to Walt Whitman, 7 July 1886
Date: July 7, 1886
Editorial note: The annotation, "WL Shoemaker," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.
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.03700
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
3116 P Street: Georgetown, D.C., July 7. '86.
Spending a few weeks in Merchantville, in "the leafy month of June," I took occasion, one bright Sunday morning, to call and pay my respects to you. I had previously, on visiting Philadelphia, two or three times taken the same liberty and enjoyed the same pleasure; once with my friend E. J. Loomis, of the Nautical Almanac Office. For you had yourself, in certain "Messenger Leaves," extended an invitation to persons unknown to you to hail you and exchange a few words with you, if they felt an impulse so to do.
"Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?"
Had I received such a Leaf in Washington, years ago, where I often saw you, I think I should have hailed you and wished you w[ell?], even in the public street; for I even then desired to speak to you. I remember that once, taking a stroll over the hills beyond the Anacostia, I gathered a small bunch of wild-flowers, and, on returning home, finding you seated in the same car, I was impelled to offer you the little bouquet—a spontaneous, simple tribute to "the good gray poet"—which you accepted very courteously, with thanks.
On my last visit to you, I was glad to see you so, apparently, much better in health than I had anticipated finding you. Though you expressed yourself as calmly and patiently awaiting the summons to "emigrate" into the great Unknown, I hope that the summons may be deferred for may years to come, and that, daring them, such vigor of mind and body may remain to you as that life be not a burthen.
I promised to send you an epigram which on a certain occurrence in 1882—a proceeding disgraceful to one of These States—my indignation impelled me to pen. I gave a copy of it to your valorous champion, O'Connor,1 but I do not know whether he ever sent it to you.
I have a dim remembrance that I also sent it to Puck, with a clipping from the Evening Star. I do not think, however, that it was ever printed. It may perchance amuse you. At any rate I have promised to let you have it, and you will find it transcribed herein.
I remain, my dear [S?]ir,
very truly, your friend, (if you allow me to call you so,)
[illegible] L. Shoemaker.
Epigram.On the attempted Suppression
*The Society for the Suppression of Vice, (a Society no [illegible] quite indispensable in Massachusetts.)
Transcribed for Walt Whitman
William Lukens Shoemaker (1822–1906) was trained as a physician but became a philologist, poet, and translator; one of his poems ("The Sweetheart Bird-Song") was set to music and became a popular ballad in the late 1800s. He visited Whitman in Camden, after which Whitman said that he "liked him," describing him as "an old man—rather past the age of vigor—but discreet, quiet, not obtrusive" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 17, 1888).
1. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]