Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hamlin Garland to Walt Whitman, 24 November 1886

Date: November 24, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02128

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 annotation, "Garland," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes Aug 18, '88," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, and Nicole Gray

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Jamaica Plain

Mr. Walt Whitman.

It is with profound sorrow that I read in the papers the news that you are again suffering from your old trouble. I trust it is not so serious as reported. My regard for you is so great that I am very sorry, not to be able to buy more copies of your books and thus give a more substantial token of sympathy.

I am an enthusiastic reader of your books, both volumes of which I have within reach of hand. I am, everywhere in my teaching and writing, making your claims felt and shall continue to do so. I have demonstrated (what of course you know) that there is no veil—no impediment—between your mind and your audience, when your writings are voiced. The formlessness is only seeming not real.

I have never read a page of your poetry, or quoted a line, that has not commanded admiration. The music is there and the grandeur of thought is there, if the reader reads, guided by the sense and not by the external lining or paragraphing. Even very young pupils feel the thrill of the deep rolling music though the thought may be too profound for them to grasp.

In a course of lectures before the Boston School of Oratory last summer I made a test of the matter. I do not think a single pupil held out against my arguments supplemented by readings from your work.

The trouble is they get at your work through the daily press or through the defenders of Longfellow or Tennyson (whom it is supposed you utterly antagonize). When it is brought to them by one who appreciates and measurably understands your methods and ideals I do not think there is any doubt of the favorable result. I have found much opposition but it was mostly ignorant & misled.

I am a young man of very ordinary attainments and do not presume to do more than to give you a glimpse of the temper of that public which would not do you wrong, deliberately, but who by reason of the causes hinted at above, fail to get at the transcendent power of "Leaves of Grass."

If I have given you the impression that I believe in you and strive to interpret you, you will not feel that I have over-stepped the privileges of a pupil in the presence of a great teacher.

The enclosed slip is a meagre out-line of a volume which I am writing and which I hope to get out this coming spring. As the motto-page of this volume I have used a paragraph from your "Collect" which is entitled "Foundation Stayed—then Others." While it is not strictly essential to the book, yet I should esteem it a favor if you consent to its use. One sentence, "In nothing is there more evolution than in the American mind," I have also used in company with Spencer's great law of progress upon my title page. It helped to decide the title, which is: The Evolution of American Thought:1 an outline study of the leading phases of American Literature etc. In the latter part of the volume I have treated of the Age of Democracy and its thought, taking as foundation the splendid utterances of Mr. Paine upon the modern age. It is in this chapter that I place your work. I quote from you quite largely both in treating of your writings and in treating the general theme of present and future democratic ideals. I hope to be able to please you with my treatment of your great work. Beside this I am preparing special lectures upon the same subject.

Have you any objection to the quotations which I find if necessary to use? In conclusion let me say that without any bias in your favor, (rather the opposite from newspapers) your poems thrilled me, reversed many of my ideas, confirmed me in others, helped to make me what I am. I am a border-man; born in Wisconsin and raised on the prairie & frontier. I am a disciple of Mr. Spencer and therefore strive at comparative methods of criticism. That your poems should thus convert me, is to me a revelation of their power, especially when I can convince others in the same manner.

And my revered friend (for I feel you are a friend) think of me as one who radiates the principles of the modern age, and who will in his best manner (poor at best) strive to make his hearers and readers better aware of the goodness and grandeur of the "Good Gray Poet" and his elemental lines.

Your readers are increasing, and may you live to see the circle infinitely extended, is my fervent hope. I do not expect a reply to this other than the signification whether I may quote you or not. I wish I might see and talk with you but that is not possible except through your volumes.

I am most sincerely yours,
Hamlin Garland.

Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Garland's "The Evolution of American Thought" was never published; the manuscript of the book does contain a chapter on Whitman. [back]


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