Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Lovell Birge Harrison to Walt Whitman, 30 June 1884

Date: June 30, 1884

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02300

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, "George," "A Letter—an artist," "[Letter to W. W. from B. H., who has been much among the American Indians:]," and "¶ in smaller type," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Nicole Gray, Ian Faith, and Kyle Barton

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I have just received a copy of Baldwins Monthly containing your little paper on the indian delegations,1 for which many thanks.2

In the third3 paragraph you say that there is something about the essential traits of our aborigines which "will almost certainly never be transmitted to the future." If I am so fortunate as to regain my health I hope to weaken the force of that statement, at least in sofar as my talent & training will permit. I intend to spend some years among them & shall endeavor to perpetuate on canvas some of the finer types, both men & women & some of the characteristic features of their life. It will certainly be well worth the while. My artistic enthusiasm was never so thoroughly stirred up as by the indians They certainly have more of beauty dignity & nobility mingled with their own wild individuality than any of the other indigenous types of man. Neither black nor Afgahn, Arab nor Malay (I know them all pretty well) can hold a candle to the Indian. All of the other aboriginal types seem to be more or less distorted from the model of perfect human form—as we know it—the Blacks, thin-hipped, with bulbous limbs, not well marked; the Arabs large jointed &c. But I have seen many a young indian as perfect in form & feature as a Greek statue—very different from a Greek statue of course but as satisfying to the artistic perceptions & demand.

And the worst, or perhaps the best of it all is that it will require an artist—and a good one—to record the real facts & impressions. Ten thousand photographs would not have the value of one really finely felt painting. Color is all important. No one but an artist knows how much. An indian is only half an indian without the blue-black hair & the brilliant eyes shining out of the wonderful dusky ochre & rose complexion. Photo's are but for records at the best & if the Lord permits I shall give people some thing better to remember the Navajos & Apaches by. With renewed thanks for your kindness in sending me the article I remain,

Your sincere Admirer
Birge Harrison—

Lovell Birge Harrison (1854–1929) was an American landscape painter and writer.


1. "An Indian Bureau Reminiscence" was published by "Baldwin, the Clothier" in Baldwin's Monthly; it was printed in February, 1884, and was reprinted in To-Day in May, 1884. [back]

2. In this paragraph, and elsewhere in the letter, portions have been crossed out, apparently by Whitman. The note pasted to the top would seem to indicate that Whitman intended to have the letter printed. He also numbered the pages, beginning with 100 on the pasted-on note, and adding 101, 102, and 103, respectively, at the top of each subsequent page of the letter. [back]

3. This word has been corrected to "fourth" in Whitman's hand. [back]


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