Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thaddeus Hyatt to Walt Whitman, 8 November 1891

Date: November 8, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02340

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 note: The annotation, "see notes Nov. 11 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Andrew David King, Brandon James O'Neil, Stephanie Blalock, and Alex Ashland

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43 Henry Street
Brooklyn N.Y.
8th November 1891

Dear Mr Whitman

If I have been tardy in seeming rembrance of you & your deserts it is because during the past decade of years I have been myself among the breakers; and clouds, tempests, & darkness have been about me; but now I once more see the sun.

I beg your acceptance of the enclosed1 & though but trifling, it will nevertheless show what my feelings are & what more I would like to do.

You remember Wells2—of Fowler & Wells Phrenologists.3 Through him & other of your friends, in Bolton,4 (though never having had the pleasure to meet you, personally) I have always felt that I knew you. Your good deeds to our country were during the war & under circumstances more trying and perilous than mine; which were before; & because of which, war came; for had Kansas been made a Slave State, there would never have been war: the Country would have become all Slave!—I was in the struggle to prevent Kansas being made a Slave State & my name must have been known to you in those days & familiar.

I am, dear friend Very Sincerely Yours,
Thaddeus Hyatt

Thaddeus Hyatt (1816–1901) was an abolitionist and industrialist. Born in New Jersey, Hyatt moved to Kansas in the 1850s with a plan to develop local industry, where he befriended abolitionist John Brown. Following Brown's execution in 1859, Hyatt raised funds to support Brown's widow and children and was brought to Washington, D.C., to testify before the U.S. Senate committee investigating the events at Harper's Ferry. After refusing to testify, he was jailed at Capitol Prison for three months. Upon release, he briefly served as American consul at La Rochelle, France, before building a home in London using his own patented concrete. There, he developed the translucent paving tiles that made him a small fortune. During the last years of his life, Hyatt divided his time between Brooklyn and the British Isles and died in 1901 while vacationing with his family on the Isle of Wight. He is the author of several books, including The Prayer of Thaddeus Hyatt to James Buchanan, President of the United States, in Behalf of Kansas (Washington: Henry Polkinhorn, 1860) and Love's Seasons, or Tides of the Heart (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1892). For more information, see Steven Lubet, John Brown's Spy: The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).


1. Hyatt enclosed $25 in the letter. Whitman described Hyatt as a "Noble, noble man!" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, November 10, 1891[back]

2. Hyatt is referring to Samuel Roberts Wells (1820–1875) who was a phrenologist, author, and member of the New York publishing firm Fowler and Wells. For more information on Wells, see Madeline B. Stern, "Wells, Samuel Roberts (1820–1875)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811–1896) and Orson Squire Fowler (1809–1887) were brothers from Cohocton, New York, and well-known phrenologists. They established a Phrenological Cabinet in Clinton Hall in New York City in 1842, where Whitman received a phrenological examination in 1849. The Fowlers' brother-in-law Samuel R. Wells also joined the firm, which later came to be known as Fowler and Wells. The firm published numerous books and magazines on phrenology, reform, and self-help topics, and anonymously published Whitman's second edition of Leaves of Grass in 1856. For more information, see Madeline B. Stern, "Fowler, Lorenzo Niles (1811–1896) and Orson Squire (1809–1887)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Whitman's friends in Bolton, England, included Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician, and the architect James W. Wallace (1853–1926). Johnston and Wallace were the co-founders of the Bolton College, a group of English admirers of Whitman and his writings. For more information on Johnston and Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998) and "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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