Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Ingersoll to Walt Whitman, 5 June 1890

Date: June 5, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02346

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, "on p 120," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "See notes June 6, '90," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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400 Fifth Avenue1
June 5, 90

My dear Mr. Whitman,

I can hardly tell you what pleasure it gave me to meet you2—to look into your eyes, to hear your voice, to grasp your hand and to thank you for the brave and splendid words you have uttered.—

I recd copies of the Camden Post3 and I think that I recognize your work in the wonderful tribute paid to me. Sometime I will pay, so far as may be in my power, a fitting tribute to your character and genius. Of course what I said was fragmentary—almost incoherent—giving only the faintest outline—indicating here and there a mountain peak, leaving the rich & beautiful valleys without a word. May many happy years be yours—With thanks I remain

Yours always
R G Ingersoll

Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: New York | June 5 | 10 PM | E; Camden, N.J. | Jun | 6 | 9AM | 1890 | Rec'd. There is a second New York postmark that is almost entirely illegible. [back]

2. Ingersoll is referring to meeting Whitman at the poet's 71st birthday dinner. The dinner was held on May 31, 1890 at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia, and Ingersoll was the main speaker. There were also speeches by the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke and Silas Weir Mitchell, a writer and a physician specializing in nervous disorders. [back]

3. On June 2, 1890, the Camden Post published the article titled "Ingersoll's Speech," which Whitman wrote himself. He reprinted it in his 1891 bookGood-Bye My Fancy[back]


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