Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Ingersoll to Walt Whitman, 12 October 1890

Date: October 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02350

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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400 Fifth Avenue1
Oct 12. 90

My dear Whitman—

On return from Washington last night found your good letter.2

Of course you will have a chance to say your say on the 21st3 and the more you say the better—What you propose is apt and beautiful but you will think of more.

The occasion, the climate, the subtle something that gives to an audience a personality that dominates speakers and hearers—all these will determine what Walt Whitman has to say.—

I hope the night will be good—that you will be in unusual health and spirits, and that you will be satisfied

with your friend
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 | Oct 12 | 12 PM | [B?] Cam [illegible] | [illegible] | 13 | 9AM | 18 [illegible] | Rec'd. [back]

2. This letter may not be extant. [back]

3. In his letter of September 17 Bucke quoted a letter from John H. Johnston: "This morning an hours talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" In his September 19 letter to Bucke, Whitman wrote that being affiliated with Ingersoll and "freethinking folks" was "annoying" to him, despite the poet's deep respect for Ingersoll. See also Whitman's September 20 letter to John H. Johnston. [back]


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