Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 22 February 1888

Date: February 22, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03181

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: Jeannette Schollaert, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Feb 22. 1888
Richmond - Ind

Dear Walt;

Last night was my first real attempt at the kind of splurge we have talked about. Bust & photo exhibition; clay modeling and talk. I came off at the Presbyterian Ch. before the Tuesday Club—I have met nowhere a more intelligent company. There were some 200 present. I began by a ten minute reading as a sort of "prayer" or prelude, & then turned to my clay & modeled & talked for a half or three quarters of an hour, producing a tolerably good head of old John Brown.1 I was able to keep up a continuous interest. Then I explained casting in plaster, & the reproduction in marble. Then I drew some chalk pictures on blackboard, & gave some reminiscinces of Emerson,2 yourself & Dr. Holmes.3 I had your photos there—& many others, with my busts of Hicks,4 Sumner,5 Emerson, & my little head of mother—We kept up the business till near ten o'clock. I guess it was a success. At all events, the thanks were profuse and hearty. Several ministers were there & in perfectly good humor. I now feel sure I can make this sort of thing all over the country. But I want to reduce the bust exhibition business to a magic lantern performance. It will not be so picturesque, but more convenient, & much less expensive. It would cost like sin to tote several large busts about the country. I wish I had photos of my big busts of you & of the statuette, negatives small size fit for stereopticon. I must have them some way. Next Sunday's Register will print my opening remarks & give a account of the evening I shall send you a copy.

I am worried about Harned.6 Horace7 just wrote me a word & sent the Posts two weeks ago, & that's all I've heard. I hope the affair has not been serious.

And I hope you are comfortable. I should like to stop in & see you all. I'm trying to get the Hicks bust plastered before sending. Will send it by 1st of next week. I rather wanted to make the most of it here, & so have delayed. What about the lecture for the Fidelity?

Kind regards to Mrs. D.8 Let her read this &
Yours ever,

Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109.


1. The famous abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859) began pursuing a violent guerilla war against slavery in Kansas and Missouri in 1856. In October 1859, Brown stormed a federal armory at Harper's Ferry but was captured by marines under the command of Robert E. Lee. Brown's execution ten days later transformed him into a martyr for the abolitionist cause (see Robert McGlone, "John Brown," American National Biography Online). [back]

2. 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]

3. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894) was a Bostonian author, physician, and lecturer. One of the Fireside Poets, he was a good friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as John Burroughs. Holmes remained ambivalent about Whitman's poetry. He married Amelia Lee Jackson in 1840 and they had three children, including the later Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. For more information, see Julie A. Rechel-White, "Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1809–1894)," (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, eds. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 280). [back]

4. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

5. Charles Sumner (1811–1874), a Massachusetts politician, was most famous for being beaten unconscious on the Senate floor by South Carolinian Preston Brooks, who was outraged by Sumner's denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1856. Sumner would go on to be an influential member of the Senate's Radical Republicans during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He died of a heart attack on March 11, 1874. [back]

6. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel, was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was a close acquaintance of Walt Whitman and one of the poet's literary executors. He met Whitman in 1873 and proceeded to visit the aging author almost daily beginning in the late 1880s. The result of these meetings—during which Traubel took meticulous notes—is the nine-volume collection With Walt Whitman in Camden. Later in life, Traubel also published Whitmanesque poetry and revolutionary essays. He died in 1919, shortly after he claimed to have seen a vision of Whitman beckoning him to 'Come on'. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. (1858–1919), Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 740–741. [back]

8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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