Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Amelia W. Bates to Walt Whitman, 18 January [1881]

Date: January 18, 1881

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01083

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

Editorial note: The annotation, "Came to-day from a Wisconsin lady, a stranger," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Nicole Gray, Matt Cohen, and Kenneth M. Price

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Mrs. Amelia W. Bates
710 Astor St.
Jan. 18, 1880.1

Mr. Walt Whitman
My Dear Sir:

I am sure you will pardon the liberty I am taking in addressing a stranger. No, not a stranger, for a man or a woman who writes for the people, cannot if he would, be a stranger to even the most ordinary citizen of the world.

I am not accustomed thus to present my claim to acquaintanceship with writers. You are the first of our poets whom I have I have ever troubled with the correspondence, that I am told is their inevitable fate.

Now, this let[ter?] I send you has only come out of the reading of your late article in the North American Review which lies at my hand just finished.

May I be permitted to say, that I believe you to approach the nearest to the "Poet of the future" as you [prophesy?] him to be, than any other existing. You are indeed the suggestor. You have in this article given me at least, "much to desire, to study," but alas I shall never be able "to complete in turn" greatly as I desire so to do. I believe in the potency of science to reconstruct society, but not being a poet I had not credited it with "clearing a field for verse". I will believe this also, adding it to my "creed" the "I believes", of my religion which years ago I began to put in the place of the apostolic creed of the church. I shall watch for this poetry of the future with the eagerness of [illegible] [born?] of my faith in science and humanity.

May I tell you how I have come to Walt Whitman worship?

Twelve years ago, when just awaking from the aimless woman life into which I was educated, I was persuaded to read "Leaves of Grass," by my brother who believed in you its author. I had heard of it of course, heard very bad things of it too. I was certain [my?] dear brother would not ask me to read a bad book. I was too uninformed in poetry then, to appreciate the "Leaves" as I now do. But it did not impress me as a bad book, crude as I was. I am and always have been very glad it did not. Other women and men whom I talked with at that time and I am sorry to say ever since called it coarse. I comforted myself with Thoreau's word of you in his "letters", which you doubtless know by heart as I do. Later I read Joseph B. Marvin's review in [the?] "Radical Review" and felt supreme self satisfaction in these words, "Only the voices of the manliest and the womanliest can rightly accentuate the words of "Leaves of Grass" etc. I had been brave enough to read aloud at a "Decoration Day" service in a church one of your pieces "Come up from the Fields Father". I am not a public reader and was [trembling with?] fright, but I must have "accentuated" the poetry for it brought tears to the eyes of many, and at its close, Wm. C. Gannett came forward to me with a beautiful earnestness in his truly thoughtful face saying "who wrote that" "will you let me take it home". (the copy of Drum Taps). That was my hour of triumph for my poet. For I had heard Mr. Gannett say, a friend of his a lady who knew you, said you were "coarse."

I have waited for your vindication, with the assurance of perfect satisfaction that it would come. I read with delight Edmund C. Stedman's article in the late Scribner, not as wholly satisfactory to me as [Mergars's?] in the Radical, but just and sweet and will be more widely seen and read than [illegible].

I would be very glad to see you, but that may never be. Remember me as one however who has always believed in you, always admired your words. If I were younger I would strive with all my [illegible] to do something worthy of my worship of your genius, worthy to be remembered by you. But at fifty years of age crippled by a poverty [that?] makes me use the greatest portion of my energy to be economical and pursue a domestic vocation I cannot do much.

I must not expect to draw upon a writers time to reply to this letter. If you will but acknowledge its receipt, and will tell me where and when the article mentioned by Stedman, the "recantation of Emerson" appeared I shall esteem it a great favor. I never knew this had been written and I could never quite forgive Emerson for his retraction from the commendation once bestowed upon you.

Very sincerely,
Amelia W. Bates


1. Bates dated this letter January 18, 1880. In the letter, however, she mentions seeing E. C. Stedman's essay in a recent issue of Scribner's Monthly. Stedman's important essay "Walt Whitman" appeared in Scribner's Monthly in November 1880, so it is probable that Bates, after a year of writing 1880, kept doing so out of habit in the new year, momentarily forgetting in January that she was now in 1881. [back]


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