Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles S. Keyser to Walt Whitman, 16 September 1856

Date: September 16, 1856

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02587

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, "Charles S Keyser 33 So. 5th st Philadelphia Sept 16 '56 about Leaves of Grass," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Maia DiTolla, William Bertellotti, Stephanie Blalock, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, Erel Michaelis, Kassie Jo Baron, and Jeff Hill

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I have had the good fortune to read your Poem "Leaves of Grass"—I have read nothing hitherto in which in a large sense I recognized my nationality—this Poem could not have been written but on the Soil of North America, nor by any other than one of her own new race of men—its surpassing worth to me is in its broad conception of our thought and action;—it forces our advance in these—in it we recognise ourselves—

It was a matter of little importance that Longfellow2 translated for us the poetic thought of the German—or that Bryant3 continued his labours in the English School—or that Poe4 produced his perfect Poem—these things we had before—Carlyle5 also wrote before Emerson6—but this is our own—I thank you for it—I have not been able to procure a copy of it here, nor can I discover whether it has been privately printed as I judge from the title—if not may I ask you to designate to me where it may be procured.

I am very respectfully
Charles S. Keyser

33 So 5th

To Walt Whitman Esq
Sept 16 1856.

As yet we have no information about this correspondent.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Care Fowlers & Wells | New York City. It is postmarked: BALTIMORE | DEC. | 5 | MD.  [back]

2. In his time, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was both a highly popular and highly respected American poet. His The Song of Hiawatha, published the same year as Leaves of Grass, enjoyed sales never reached by Whitman's poetry. When Whitman met Longfellow in June 1876, he was unimpressed: "His manners were stately, conventional—all right but all careful . . . he did not branch out or attract" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 10, 1888, 130). [back]

3. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) was an American nature poet and journalist who served as the Editor-in-Chief of the New York Evening Post from 1828 to 1878. He is known for his poem "Thanatopsis," and his influence helped establish Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. [back]

4. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) was an American poet, fiction writer, and literary critic. Though born in Boston, he was shaped by an upbringing in the South. He is best known for his short tales, including detective fiction and stories of the macabre. Poe passed away a few days after he was found delirious and in need of medical assistance on the streets of Baltimore. [back]

5. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. He wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. His History of Friedrich II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great was published in 1858. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985). For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" (pp. 168–170) and "Carlyle from American Points of View" (170–178) in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1882). [back]

6. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet, essayist, and leader among the Transcendentalists. In his famous letter to Walt Whitman of July 21, 1855, Emerson wrote of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start." For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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