Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Hutchinson to Walt Whitman, 12 December 1890

Date: December 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02338

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: Jennifer Antonson, Noah Bolls, Stephanie Blalock, and Breanna Himschoot

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Christmastide, 1890.

Dear Poet,

In your "Specimen Days"2 you tell us you once "tried to read a beautifully printed and scholarly volume on 'The Theory of Poetry' . . . . but gave it up at last for a bad job."3 What I at present fear is that you may give up this note as a bad job, though I hope, in your kindliness of heart, you may see your way to grant my request. Though but a humble individual, and nearly half-a-century younger than yourself, yet I have always had great regard for poets. Well, I have just been reading in one of our English papers a brief notice about yourself, in which, among other matters, it is stated that your books are still sold at your home in Mickle Street. What I would humbly ask of you is to send me one of your books—any you like, though personally I should prefer one of your poetic ones—and kindly write for me, and sign in your own handwriting, a brief note on the fly-leaf. The price of the book I will send by reply mail. But I should not care for one of your expensive editions, and for this vital reason, alas!—I am but a poor man and have a wife4 and five wee weans.5 Mr Halkett Lord,6 Hawthornden, Scotch Plains, N.J., would, I think, express his opinion that I am not likely to prove a defaulter. Dear Poet, in your own words, and at this sacred time, may I affectionately send "Love to you, and best wishes and remembrance" from all "British friends." May God ever bless you!

Thomas Hutchinson

Thomas Hutchinson (1856–1938) was an English writer and educator, teaching at Northumbria University and the Pegswood school. He published a book of verse, Ballades and other Rhymes of a Country Bookworm (1888). He was also a collector of first editions and publications by notable writers, and the items in the collection that had not been sold previously at auction were later donated by Hutchinson's descendants to Preston Park Museum and Grounds (Charlotte Barro, "Man with Lifelong Love Affair with Literature," Morpeth Herald, January 1, 2016).


1. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman, | Mickle Street, | Camden, | New Jersey, | United States. It is postmarked: Morpeth | I | DE20 | 90; Paid | K | All; A | 91; New York | Jan | 4; Camden, N. J. | Jan | 5 | 6am | 1891. [back]

2. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Hutchinson is referring to Whitman's "After Trying a Certain Book." See Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882–'83), 198–199. [back]

4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

5. As yet we have no information about these people. [back]

6. Halkett Lord was a linguist, bibliographer, and editor. He contributed thousands of quotations for the Oxford English Dictionary, and he was both a contributor to and the literary editor of a monthly magazine titled The Bookmart: A Monthly Magazine of Literary, Library, and Bibliographic Intelligence[back]


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