Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to the Committee on Invitations, American Institute, 5 August 1871

Date: August 5, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01695

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), 2:132. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Department of Justice
Aug 5, 1871

Messrs. George Payton, Chas. E. Burd, and James B. Young, Committee on Invitations.
Dear Sirs:1

I have read your letter of 1st inst. containing invitation to deliver an appropriate original poem at the opening of the 40th Annual Exhibition of the American Institute, Sept. 7, & stating terms, &c. I accept with pleasure, & shall be ready without fail to deliver the poem at time specified.

Address me here, if any thing further.


1. The Committee of the American Institute had written on August 1, 1871, "to solicit of you the honor of a poem on the occasion of its opening, September 7, 1871—with the privilege of furnishing proofs of the same to the Metropolitan Press for publication with the other proceedings.…We shall be most happy, of course, to pay traveling expenses & entertain you hospitably, and pay $100 in addition."

The newspaper coverage of Walt Whitman's appearance was extensive: the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle published the poet's account on September 7, 1871; the New York Evening Post reprinted the poem, later entitled "After All, Not to Create Only," and called Walt Whitman "a good elocutionist"; he was also praised in the New York Sun and the Brooklyn Standard; the New York Tribune printed excerpts from the poem on September 8, 1871, and later a devastating parody by Bayard Taylor (reprinted in his Echo Club [2nd ed., 1876], 169–170); the Springfield Republican published the poem on September 9, 1871. In reply to the criticisms of the poem, Walt Whitman prepared the following for submission to an unidentified newspaper: "The N. Y. World's frantic, feeble, fuddled articles on it are curiosities. The Telegram dryly calls it the longest conundrum ever yet given to the public" (Yale). See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 1:328–329; Emory Holloway, Whitman–An Interpretation in Narrative (1926), American Mercury, 18 (1929), 485–486; and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 433–435.

On September 11, 1871, John W. Chambers, secretary of the Institute, thanked Walt Whitman "for the magnificent original poem." [back]


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