Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Fanny Fern to Walt Whitman, 21 April [1856]

Date: April 21, [1856]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02068

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, "From Fanny Fern," and "From Fanny Fern," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Claeys, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, Erel Michaelis, Kassie Jo Baron, Jeff Hill, and Stephanie Blalock

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"Leaves of Grass"1

You are delicious! May my right-hand wither if I don't tell the world before another week, what one woman thinks of you.2

"Walt"? "what I assume, you shall assume!" Some one evening this week you are to spend with Jemmy3 & me—Wednesday?—say.

Yours truly,
Fanny Fern
Sunday, April 21st

"Fanny Fern" was the pen name of the poet and novelist Sara Payson Willis Parton (1811–1872). Willis was a professional journalist who wrote a weekly column for the New York Ledger, where she published a favorable review of Leaves of Grass in 1856. She was married to James Parton (1822–1891), a journalist and biographer. Despite Sara Payson Willis Parton's early praise of Whitman's writing, the Partons had a falling out with the poet in 1857 over a two-hundred dollar loan James Parton gave Whitman for the purpose of pursuing a literary project—a debt that Whitman believed to be settled, but according to the Partons, was never repaid (Oral S. Coad, "Whitman vs. Parton," Journal of the Rutgers University Library, 4 (December 1940). For more on Sara Payson Willis Parton, see Susan Belasco Smith, "Parton, Sara Payson Willis (Fanny Fern) (1811–1872)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Walter Whitman. [back]

2. See Fern's review of the 1855 Leaves of Grass in the May 10, 1856, issue of the New York Ledger[back]

3. James Parton (1822–1891) was a journalist and, according to the Dictionary of American Biography, "the most successful biographer of his generation." Shortly before Walt Whitman had borrowed money, Parton had published his first bestseller, The Life of Horace Greeley (1855). When the issue of payment was in dispute, Parton sent attorney Oliver Dyer to collect from Whitman. (Oral S. Coad, "Whitman vs. Parton," Journal of the Rutgers University Library, 4 (December 1940). [back]


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