Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Ingersoll to Walt Whitman, 16 June 1890

Date: June 16, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02349

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "letter f'm R G Ingersoll June 16 1890," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5

45. Wall Street
New York1
June 16. 90.

My dear Whitman,

Accept my best thanks for the beautiful copy of "Leaves of Grass."2—What I love about that book is that it is filled with the spirit of freedom. Every line is manly, natural, independent, self poised, and in each is a superb personality.

You have given the world the honest harvest of a great brain. You have stood straight, erect, and have kept your hat on. There is no dust on your knees. I have taken the liberty to send you a copy of the last edition of Prose Poems.3 The title was given to the collection by my friend the publisher. So you will not hold me responsible for that. I think that you will like the articles on Lincoln—Art and Morality—life, and the imagination. Of course you may not agree with all I say, but you have that splendid thing—"Intellectual Hospitality"—and that is enough.

Again, thanking you for the splendid Book and wishing you many, many happy years—laurel-crowned—

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 Esq | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: New York | Jun 16 | 7PM | 90; Camden, N. J. | Jun | 17 | 6am | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. A special edition of Leaves of Grass was issued in honor of Whitman's 70th birthday in 1889. It was printed on thin Bible paper and had a flexible leather binding in a pocket-size format. [back]

3. Ingersoll is referring to his book Prose-Poems and Selections from the Writings and Sayings of Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: C. P. Farrell, 1888). [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.