Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Hiram J. Ramsdell, 22 August [1871]

Date: August 22, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01708

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, 1969), 5:294. 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, and Zachary King

Aug. 22.

My dear Ramsdell1,

Perhaps it may hardly be necessary, but I feel to write you a line of caution about the Tennyson letter.2 I rely on your promise not to publish the letter, nor any thing equivalent to it. The fact of it, with Tennyson's complimentary message & invitation, I have no objection to your printing &, after what I have said, leave it to you to carry all that out. You might do well to put in about my intended appearance3 before the American Institute, at its 40th opening, Sept. 7th in New York, and that the curiosity of both my friends & foes is extremely piqued, &c &c.—what the poem will be—how delivered—&c &c—

W. W.


1. Hiram J. Ramsdell (1839–1887) was a clerk in Washington; in a hospital notebook (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California), Whitman called him "chief clerk." Ramsdell was the Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune and the Cincinnati Commercial. On May 8, 1867, Ramsdell reported the high praise that George Townsend, the journalist (1841–1914), accorded to Whitman—"a stupendous genius," "the song of a God." On July 17, 1867, he asked Whitman to do whatever he could for Judge Milton Kelly, of Idaho, against whom charges had been brought by "a very bad man," Congressman Edward Dexter Holbrook (1836–1870), a Democrat from the Idaho Territory. Actually, on July 12, 1867, Whitman had submitted to the Attorney General a "Report on the Charges submitted by Hon. E. D. Holbrook, Del[egate] from Idaho Terr[itory], against Hon. Milton Kelly, Asso[ciate] Just[ice] Supreme Court of Idaho" (National Archives). To this forty-one page summary of the evidence, all in Whitman's hand, there is appended a letter signed by attorney general Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) but inscribed by Whitman, dated July 20, 1867: "The Conclusion in the preceding Report is hereby adopted by me, & ordered to stand as the decision of this Office in the Case, so far as now presented." On July 22, 1867, Ramsdell apologized for his "aggressiveness." Judge Kelly wrote to Whitman on June(?) 21, 1867 (National Archives), and again on August 9, 1867. On November 15, 1875, Ramsdell, among others, petitioned Benjamin H. Bristow (1832–1896), Secretary of the Treasury, that Whitman "be appointed to a position in the Treasury Department" (National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.). [back]

2. The reference is to Tennyson's July 12, 1871 letter to Whitman. [back]

3. Walt Whitman read "After All, Not to Create Only" before the American Institute on September 7, 1871, after accepting their invitation on August 5, 1871[back]


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