Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Charles Warren Stoddard, 23 April 1870

Date: April 23, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01686

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:97–98. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

April 23, 1870

Dear Charles Stoddard,1

I received some days since your affectionate letter, & presently came your beautiful & soothing South Sea Idyll which I read at once.2

Now, as I write, I sit by a large open window, looking south & west down the Potomac & across to the Virginia heights. It is a bright, warm spring-like afternoon. I have just re-read the sweet story all over, & find it indeed soothing & nourishing after its kind, like the atmosphere. As to you, I do not of course object to your emotional & adhesive nature, & the outlet thereof, but warmly approve them—but do you know (perhaps you do,) how the hard, pungent, gritty, worldly experiences & qualities in American practical life, also serve? how they prevent extravagant sentimentalism? & how they are not without their own great value & even joy?3

It arises in my mind, as I write, to say something of that kind to you—

I am not a little comforted when I learn that the young men dwell in thought upon me & my utterances—as you do—& I frankly send you my love—& I hope we shall one day meet—

—I wish to hear from you always,
Walt Whitman


1. Stoddard (1843–1909) published Poems, edited by Bret Harte, in 1867. His most famous book, South-Sea Idyls (1873), is mentioned in this letter. Stoddard was a journalist, a lecturer at the Catholic University of America from 1889 to 1902, and for a brief period Mark Twain's secretary. [back]

2. Stoddard's letter of April 2, 1870, began dramatically: "In the name of CALAMUS listen to me!" He was sending "a proze idyl wherein I confess how dear [barbarism] is to me." "A South-Sea Idyl," which appeared in the Overland Monthly, 3 (September 1869), 257–264, related, with thinly veiled homosexual overtones, Stoddard's relations with a sixteen-year-old native boy Kána-ána. It was reprinted as Part One of "Chumming with a Savage" in South-Sea Idyls (1873). [back]

3. Walt Whitman was obviously trying to check the seething emotion of this young man who was about to sail for Tahiti. Stoddard had written, in his letter of April 2, 1870, "I know there is but one hope for me. I must get in amongst people who are not afraid of instincts and who scorn hypocracy . I am numbed with the frigid manners of the Christians; barbarism has given me the fullest joy of my life and I long to return to it and be satisfied." [back]


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