Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Oliver to Walt Whitman, 28 August 1889

Date: August 28, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02923

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: Kara Wentworth, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock

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28 August 1889

Dear Sir

In your "Specimen days & collects" p. 327. (American Editn 4th.)1 speaking of American society you designate the religion of Boston as "bloodless." The word surprises me as I always thought that the greatest literateurs of the states such as Hawthorn,2 Longfellow,3 Emerson,4 had given their [imprimateur?] to that very religion you describe as bloodless—Unitarianism.

Though surprised however I quite concur in the description. But may I ask if you think the church, Protestant or Catholic is capable of grappling with the spiritual problems of our age?

Mr. Froude5 the historian whose books I prize and who has written much on Ecclesiastical Matters has never I think spoken so sharply or tersely of Unitarianism as you have done nor given any indication as to whether Christianity as the Church teaches it is able to mould the centuries to come.

As I am deeply interested in this question it would be a great favour if you would write me a line or two

Yours faithfully
John Oliver

(ov [illegible]

P.S. Have you a first Edition (American) of "November Boughs"6 to sell. If you kindly let me know I shall forward the price.

J. O.

As yet we have no information about this correspondent.


1. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer, author of The Scarlet Letter. He received praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary of and influence upon Walt Whitman. [back]

3. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was an American poet whose poems, such as Paul Revere's Ride (1860) and The Song of Hiawatha (1855) earned him the honor of having a bust installed at the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. [back]

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. 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]

5. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) was an English historian, biographer, and editor of Fraser's Magazine. Froude was also a close friend and literary executor to Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), after whose death Froude published a biography entitled Life of Carlyle, which described Carlyle's intellectual accomplishments as well as his personal failings, in particular his unhappy relationship with his wife, Jane Welsh. Froude had previously published Jane's writings in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle in 1883 to much protest from Carlyle's surviving family, and his biography of Carlyle emphasized his conflicted marriage for contemporary readers. For more on Froude, see Ciarán Brady, James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). [back]

6. Whitman's November Boughs—a book of prose and poetry—was published in 1888 by David McKay. The book included a long prefatory essay, "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads," a collection of sixty short poems under the title "Sands at Seventy," and reprints of several articles already published elsewhere. For more information on November Boughs, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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