Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Cassius M. Clay to Walt Whitman, 6 January 1891

Date: January 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01298

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 notes: The annotations, "White Hall Ky | 1—8—91," and "328 | Mickle St Camden N.J.," are in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see | notes | April 1st | 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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White Hall, Ky.1
Jan. 6. 1891

Dear Sir,

I have just received your "Leaves of Grass &c." 1890—for which accept my thanks.

I have not found time but to glance over it—& cannot return a criticism—even if such a thing was a consequence.

I am very independent in such matters—and think with Burns2 "Cruing to a body's sel Does weel enough"3 & let the world read or not, as it likes.4

—Wishing you long years yet of health and happiness. I remain yours truly
Cassius Marcellus Clay

Walt Whitman Esq.

Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810–1903), often referred to as "Lion of the White Hall," was an abolitionist and a politician from Kentucky. In the early 1860s, he was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to serve as the United States minister to Russia.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman Esq. | Care of Ferguson Bros. & Co. | Esqrs. | Philadelphia ; | Pennsylvania. It is postmarked: Philadelp [illegible] | Jan10 | 11AM | 91; Camden, N.J. | Jan | 10 | [illegible]M | [illegible]D; Received [illegible] | Jan | 3 | [illegible]PM | [illegible] | Phila. On the lower left Clay has written: "White Hall: | ky. | C. [illegible] Clay." [back]

2. Robert Burns (1759–1796) was widely regarded as Scotland's national poet. An early Romantic poet who wrote in both Scots and English (often though not exclusively inflected by Scottish dialect), Burns is perhaps best known for his poems "Auld Lang Syne," "Tam o' Shanter" and "To a Mouse" (from which the title of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is derived). Of Burns, Whitman wrote in November Boughs: "Though so much is to be said in the way of fault-finding, drawing black marks, and doubtless severe literary criticism . . . after full retrospect of his works and life, the aforesaid 'odd-kind chiel' remains to my heart and brain as almost the tenderest, manliest, and (even if contradictory) dearest flesh-and-blood figure in all the streams and clusters of by-gone poets." For Whitman's full opinion of Burns as it appeared in November Boughs, see "Robert Burns as Poet and Person," November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1888), 57–64. [back]

3. The lines are from Robert Burns's "Epistle to J. Lapraik": "Yet crooning to a body's sel / Does weel eneugh." [back]

4. Whitman found Clay's note "pugnacious" and told Horace Traubel, after reading it, that "I am the target for missiles good and bad—numberless missiles, from friends and enemies" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 1, 1891). [back]


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