Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 14 March 1888

Date: March 14, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03183

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, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Richmond Ind.
March 14th. 88

Dear Walt;

The Hicks bust1 has probably reached you by this time, or, is in Phila. It was sent first of the week. I used it at my talk last week. Think I shall put up another for my own use. I have taken a studio here, and am busy getting up an entertainment to come off in the Grand Opera House two weeks from Monday next—"A Day's life in a Sculptor's Studio." 3 parts—or acts— Morning, afternoon & evening. Assisted by the Y.M.C.A. Senate. This Senate is a debating society of the Y.M.C.A & all the fellows are enthusiastic over my enterprise. I give half the proceeds to the Y.M.C.A. a part of which the Senate is to have for a library. They are all bright fellows & full of vim, fredom, & fun. The awful burden of New England orthodoxy does not bear heavily upon their souls—not even the Elders are [grim?] with the idea of salvation. I find I can co-operate with them & do my work on common ground. They have sent for [fotos?] of the founder of the Y.M.C.A who lives in London "Exeter Hall,"2 they say, "is the result of a little prayer meeting that took place in his room over forty years ago." I am to make a bust of him, with the idea of selling copies to the "Y.M.C." associations throughout the country. When you consider that they are thicker than plums in a pudding, the prospect seems good for a sale of many copies—especially if it starts with the approbation of leading "associations" in Phila & New York. I am really glad to do this work—If it puts "boodle" in my purse, it will also impart a certain new life to the rising swarm of human "critters" these associations gather together.

My exhibition will include a variety of things. On the stage in rear I shall have my assistants as a modeling class, dressed in grey tunics. I shall be in regalia myself—long gown & appropriate head piece. The fellows will furnish glee club, & grand & lofty trebling. During the noon interruption between 1st 2nd parts, they will (draped in white with powdered faces & hands) form a pyramid climbing upon one another as high as the ceiling, to be ready the moment the curtain rises, as I enter upon the stage, to tumble to the ground or floor—so much fallen statuary. They do this thing to perfection & it creates an uproar. I am to have busts & all things I can obtain pertaining to studio well equiped. The modeling room will be rear of stage, so it can be shut off with curtains on occasion. I shall have visitors, women & art patron and children, boys & girls come in for instruction—sort of [Kindergarden?]. And much more, but all finally so arranged & compacted that it will run smooth & occupy 2½ hours.

There are certain reasons why I desire to make a short address before the curtain at the start. Some things to say that will awaken the religiousness of art in America democratically considered. Ten minutes will suffice. Between acts then will be music & stereoptican views on curtains. I will send you perfected program. I will put my best work into the business, & if it is a hit, the way may open for all we have talked about. I am going to send for my Cleveland statue & your bust.3

I had an invite to go to Indianapolis for a lecture to the Y.M.C.A there, last night. Shall probably drift that way in due season.

I have an idea it doesn't matter where one starts. So he starts, even in a small way. The continuation, if he has got anything worth c, will follow—You know the scripture—faithful over a few things first, & then rules over many.4

To change the subject—what a storm your way! Are you also snowed in? Is the back yard filled with snow up to your sitting room window? The window where the little bantums enter for their roost in the cellar. No snow here, but cold, cold, cold.

Mother begins to feel wearied by it all, and longs for the green grass & birds, so she can get out, & stir up her rheumatic limbs. Every time there is the first approach to warmishness outdoors—& we have had several spring suggesting days—she starts out on her pilgrimage about the yard, & to the shop where she sits & chats with the store workers. I wish you could see her. I think (tho she is my mother) she is a fine specimen of an old lady: so calm & broad; large & cheerful. And I find she is one of the very best of readers. Her voice is still clear & strong—musical and persuasive. She weighs now not far from 190 lbs; but is not what you would call fat. Her cheeks are plump & solid. She takes the liveliest interest in the daily papers, & the illustrations. Says "I read advertisements as much as anything, for there I find out what's going on about as much as anywhere." If she were not quite so old, I think I would start out with her on a starring tour. I'd like to introduce the Queen to her.—

I often think of you and Mrs. Davis5 there with your daily round of "so, so" and "all the same." Your simple good dinners, beef & rice fritters, & the tea pot, and the visitors, all welcome without ado—except when they come to convert you.

Please show Mrs. D. this letter, & ask her if she knows Brown's address. I wrote him & the letter comes back. He thinks I am sure I have treated him badly; but I am not at fault—I gave the old address—at least.

Do you hear from Herbert?6 I do not hear from Harned;7 but I suppose he must be all right again. Isn't about the time Dr. Bucke8 was with you? What about O'Connor?9 Do you hear from him? I got no paper or letter from Kennedy10 of late.

Well, the sun shines brightly, but the air is cold. I am very comfortable & quiet though, in my new studio, and in excellent health. Last Saturday one of the fellows drove me out four miles & we got a barrel of nice clay—dug it right out of a side hill—not a mite of dirt or gravel in it. Fine as satin. I felt like doffing my hat to old Dame nature. I went on a [piece?] to one of his "farmer friends" to dinner, & had a good ride on a horse's back, the first for 20 years. You must understand this is no "pent up Utica,"11 but spreads out infinitely. Next time I must tell you something of Earlham (Quaker) College — a mile out. I took tea out there with the Scholars some 150 in all one evening last week. Had some talk with the president. He is evidentaly touched with the new spring tide in modern world. Quite a senisible, good man.

Well, it will tire you out to read this lenthy epistle. I am most ashamed to send it, so garrulous it will seem. But, you've been through so much, it may not overwhelm you.

Kind regards.

If Horace should drop in, & he [illegible] to objection, let him see this letter. I haven't time to write him just now.

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. Morse sent Whitman a plaster cast of his bust of Elias Hicks (1748–1830), the Quaker preacher and abolitionist, about whom Whitman was writing an essay at this time. [back]

2. Exeter Hall in London, England, served as the headquarters of the Y. M. C. A. [back]

3. Morse had sculpted a statue of President Grover Cleveland and Whitman's head. [back]

4. See Matthew 25:23 ("His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things"). [back]

5. 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]

6. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. See Jonathan Mitchel Sewall (1748–1808), Epilogue to Joseph Addison's 1713 play Cato, written for a 1778 production of the play in Portsmouth, New Hampshire: "No pent-up Utica contracts your powers, / But the whole boundless continent is yours. [back]


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