Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Hamlin Garland to Walt Whitman, 28 May 1889

Date: May 28, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02134

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.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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Jamaica Plain.
May. 28/89.

Dear Mr Whitman:

I shall be with you on your seventieth birthday1 nothing intervening.2 Kennedy3 cant come. I dont know whether Mr. Butterworth4 will or not but he was much interested in the prospect and hoped the results would be satisfactory. I speak in Philadelphia in the evening but that will not interfere with my attendance at the dinner. I hope Mr. Howells5 can go down.6

Sincerely,
Hamlin Garland

Jamaica Plain
May. 28/89


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

2. Garland attended Whitman's birthday celebration, which took place at Morgan's Hall in Camden, N.J., on May 31. He gave a brief address on Whitman's themes of "Optimism and Altruism—Hope for the future and Sympathy toward men." [back]

3. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Hezekiah Butterworth (1839–1905) was assistant editor (1870–1904) of The Youth's Companion, a prominent Boston weekly magazine for children. Garland published two poems in The Youth's Companion in 1889: "A Dakota Wheat Field," which appeared in the July 18 issue, and "By the River," which appeared in the August 15 issue. [back]

5. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Goodman, Susan & Dawson, Carl, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]

6. Howells did not attend Whitman's birthday celebration. [back]


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