Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to the Tertio-millenial Anniversary Association at Santa Fe, New Mexico, 20 July 1883

Date: July 20, 1883

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Ted Genoways (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 7:69–71. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The location of the original manuscript is unknown. Genoways's transcription is derived from a typeset sheet with Whitman's holograph corrections, emendations, and signature, printed in facsimile in the American Art Galleries auction catalog of December 5 and 6, 1934.

Whitman Archive ID: med.00660

Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Stefan Schöberlein, Nima Najafi Kianfar, and Nicole Gray




Camden New Jersey1
July 20 1883

To Messrs: Griffin Martinez Prince, and other gentlemen at Santa Fe—
Dear Sirs:

Your kind invitation to visit you and deliver a poem for the 333d Anniversary of Founding Santa Fe has reached me so late, that I have to decline, with sincere regret.2 But I will say a few words off-hand.

We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed and in widely different sources. Thus far, impressed by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States have been fashioned from the British Islands only, and essentially form a second England only—which is a great mistake. Many leading traits for our future national personality, and some of the best ones, will certainly prove to have originated from other than British stock. As it is, the British and German, valuable as they are in the concrete, already threaten excess. Or rather, I should say, they have certainly reach'd that excess. To-day, something outside of them, and to counterbalance them, is seriously needed.

Thus seething materialistic and business vortices of the United States, in their present devouring relations, controlling and belittling everything else, are, in my opinion, but a vast and indispensable stage in the new world's development, and are certainly to be follow'd by something entirely different—at least by immense modifications. Character, literature, a society worthy the name, are yet to be establish'd, through a nationality of noblest spiritual, heroic and democratic attributes—not one of which at present definitely exists—entirely different from the past, though unerringly founded on it, and to justify it.

To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts. No stock shows a grander historic retrospect—grander in religiousness and loyalty, or for patriotism, courage, decorum, gravity and honor. (It is time to dismiss utterly the illusion-compound, half raw-head-and-bloody-bones and half Mysteries-of-Udolpho, inherited from the English writers of the past 200 years. It is time to realize—for it is certainly true—that there will not be found any more cruelty, tryanny, superstition, &c., in the résumé of past Spanish history than in the corresponding résumé of Anglo-Norman history. Nay, I think there will not be found so much.)

Then another point, relating to American ethnology, past and to come, I will here touch upon at a venture. As to our aboriginal or Indian population—the Aztec in the South, and many a tribe in the North and West—I know it seems to be agreed that they must gradually dwindle as time rolls on, and in a few generations more leave only a reminiscence, a blank. But I am not at all clear about that. As America, from its many far-back sources and current supplies, develops, adapts, entwines, faithfully identifies its own—are we to see it cheerfully accepting and using all the contributions of foreign lands from the whole outside globe—and then rejecting the only ones distinctively its own—the autochthonic ones?

As to the Spanish stock of our Southwest, it is certain to me that we do not begin to appreciate the splendor and sterling value of its race element. Who knows but that element, like the course of some subterranean river, dipping invisibly for a hundred or two years, is now to emerge in broadest flow and permanent action?

If I might assume to do so, I would like to send you the most cordial, heart-felt congratulations of your American fellow-countrymen here. You have more friends in the Northern and Atlantic regions than you suppose, and they are deeply interested in development of the great Southwestern interior, and in what your festival would arouse to public attention.

Very respectfully &c.,
Walt Whitman


Notes:

1. This transcript is taken from a copy labeled in Whitman's own autograph: "Copy of Letter sent by Walt Whitman in response to invitation of 'Tertio. Millenial Anniversary Association' at Santa Fe New Mexico." A copy was also sent to the Philadelphia Press for publication; the article was run on August 5, 1883, with the following headnote: "Our friends at Santa Fé, New Mexico, have just finish'd their long drawn out anniversary of the 333d year of the settlement of their city by the Spanish. The good, gray Walt Whitman was asked to write them a poem in commemoration. Instead he wrote them a letter as follows." The letter from Arthur Boyle, requesting a poem for the "Santa Fé Tertio Millennial Celebration," is in the Feinberg collection. Whitman's letter appears in November Boughs as "The Spanish Element in Our Nationality," (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1888), 50–51. [back]

2. Boyle's letter is dated June 20, 1883. [back]


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