Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Alfred Webb to Walt Whitman, 18 February 1876

Date: February 18, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01977

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Feb. '76 Alfred Webb, Dublin Sent books by mail March 11 '76," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Eder Jaramillo, John Schwaninger, Ashley Lawson, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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Removed from
74 Middle Abbey St.
18/2 1876

My dear Mr Whitman

I send you an order for 39/= for a copy of your works the $10 edition. If the amount does not cover the cost of mailing pray let me know I will send it. I hope you will write your name in the volumes.

I hear of you occasionally through Mr. Dowden.1 You may suppose that I often dwell with pleasure upon that little visit I paid you in Washington now nearly 4 years ago.

I wish you could see all the people—all the free young men, and pure women—here who take pleasure in & have received life & light from your works— Not that they are very numerous, but I think you would take greater pleasure from the kind of people who care for you than the number

I wish you cd have been at, or that it could be pictured to you, a meeting of a literary society2 I attended last Monday evening where a "gentleman" made a most ignorant & savage attack on your writings. I wish you cd have heard Professor Dowdens reply—I wish you could have seen how his beautifully spiritual face lighted up as he proceeded—and reading intelligently & with feeling the very same passages from your works which the lecturer (a coarse Man of the world) had read as words—make all clear & beautiful what was before coarse nonsense. I must say that I only know Mr Dowden casually—a person of my world cannot aspire to much acquaintance with a man whom I know to be so much in advance of me in every respect. My knowledge of literature is very slight—I have not the critical insight into things that he has

Dear friend, I am sorry to hear of your not being well. Is there no chance of our ever seeing you at [this side?]? I hope I will again see you in any case.

Life appears to me increasingly beautiful & interesting—I feel increasingly tender towards all living creatures. My having been obliged to give up all idea of a separate life for myself beyond the grave, forces me more & more to strive to do what little good I can in this world—convinces me more that (beyond our animal necessities) spiritual life, that truth, that intercourse with the pure hearted amongst us here—is the only life really worth living—I must not exclude the pure joys of nature—the [illegible], the mountain top, and the forest.

Ever yours affectionately
With best wishes
Alfred Webb

Alfred John Webb (1834–1908) was the son of Richard Davis Webb (1834–1908) and Hannah Waring Webb (1810—1862). He was from a family of activist printers; they owned a print shop in Dublin and belonged to a Quaker group that supported suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Webb was the author of A Compendium of Irish Biography (1878), and later became a politician with the Irish Parliamentary Party and served as a Member of Parliament.


1. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. On February 16, 1876, Dowden mentioned a discussion of "The Genius of Walt Whitman" at the Fortnightly Club that had taken place two days earlier. [back]


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