Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Charles W. Eldridge to Walt Whitman, 8 October 1889

Date: October 8, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: hyb.00017

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; The Oscar Lion Papers, 1914–1955, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y. 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.

Related item: Whitman repurposed the envelope in which Charles Eldridge sent this letter. Whitman opened the envelope and used the inside as a sheet of writing paper; on this blank page he drafted the manuscript titled "Walt Whitman To-day." While this letter is a part of The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., the envelope and the manuscript are part of The Oscar Lion Papers, 1914–1955, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y. The envelope was identified as belonging to this letter based on the postmark that includes the city of "San Francisco, Cal." and the date of "Oct 8," 1889. The envelope also has "Treasury Deparment" and "U.S. Internal-Revenue" printed on it, which was Eldridge's place of employment at the time, and the letter is written on "United States Internal Revenue" letterhead.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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United States Internal Revenue,
San Francisco,
October 8
, 1889.1

Dear Walt,

Your postal card was duly received.—I got all your papers and very glad of them. Especially the Boston Transcripts, Critics, Liberty &c—I am glad to see the notices of William2 that appear occasionally, but they give a very faint idea of the man to those who knew him best—If I had power of literary expression I would try to write something—If you had your health and strength I know you could give just the right touches which would preserve the portrait of an uncommonly gifted mind—John Burroughs3 might do it but he lacks sympathy I think with certain fiery and vivid types of which Wm. was a bright exemplar.—But perhaps it is just as well. "The silent organ loudest chants the masters requiem"4

I am going up and down this fair land and watching the vintage "from which streams of brandy do flow. By which I only mean that they are gathering and pressing grapes in all the vineyards—1000 acre vineyards not uncommon with five tons of grapes to the acre—and from the new wine brandy is largely distilled, we are in the height of brandy making season with which the internal revenue department is largely concerned—

Saw your interview with Edwin Arnold5 and much touched by it.—The applause of other nations, if not your own, begins to be heard in your declining years. May every comfort and blessing gather around you as your steps grow slow brother beloved.—I hope to see you next year.

Yours affectionately
Charles W. Eldridge.


Correspondent:
Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Walt Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)."

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: San Francisco, Cal | Oct 8 | 11 AM | 89; Camden, NJ | Oct | 14 | 6 [illegible] | 1889 | [illegible]. [back]

2. 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. Here Eldridge is quoting "Dirge" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. [back]

5. Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) was a British poet and journalist. [back]


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