Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Ingersoll to Walt Whitman, 29 December 1891

Date: December 29, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02353

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 Dec 30 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Brandon James O'Neil, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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45. Wall Street
New York1
Dec 29th 91

My Dear Whitman,

I am glad that you have lived long enough to know that Leaves of Grass will live forever,—long enough to know that your life has been a success—that you have sown with brave and generous hands the deeds of liberty—and love.2 This is enough, and this is a radiance that even the darkness of death cannot extinguish.

Maybe the end of the journey is the best of all, and maybe the end of this is the beginnning of another and maybe the beginning of that is better than the ending of this.

But however and whatever the fact may be, you have lightened the journey here for millions of your fellow-men. In the great desert you have dug wells and you have planted palms. As long as water and shade are welcome to the faint and weary your memory will live,—

Wishing you many, many, days of health and happiness—and with a heart full of love

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: [illegible]| [Dec] 29 | 7 PM | 91, Camden, N.J. | De[c 30] | 6 AM | 91 | Rec'd. [back]

2. On December 17, 1891, Whitman had come down with a chill and was suffering from congestion in his right lung. Although the poet's condition did improve in January 1892, he would never recover. He was confined to his bed, and his physicians, Dr. Daniel Longaker of Philadelphia and Dr. Alexander McAlister of Camden, provided care during his final illness. Whitman died on March 26, 1892. [back]


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