Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 30 October 1888

Date: October 30, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03202

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: Stephanie Blalock, Brandon James O'Neil, and Breanna Himschoot



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Oct 30 1888

Dear Walt,

I received the "November boughs"1 and like the general get up of the book much. It has a fresh, inviting appearance, & one wonders what it contains, something good—sure! The most I have had time for yet is the Hicks article.2 I think you have done good work for the long neglected. It is genial, inspiring, picture-like. If the old broad brims3 of Richmond were not so close fisted, I should predict that they would buy copies of the book by the score, but my experience with them was that they wilted when the cost of things that enthused them stepped, however modestly, to the front. Blake4 is very much pleased to get the book, & will I expect give it a good description in their Unity.5

I hear by Horace6 that you are moderately comfortable & holding on to your life interests. Do you know that is about the summing up for us all—moderately, so, so.

I am doing fairly well—am getting where I pay expenses now, with my entertainments. A wealthy lady of culture7 by chance came to one of my evenings at B's church, & was [thus pleased?], she bought my Carlyle8 & Emerson,9 & engaged me for two parlor [entertainments?] at her own home.10 The first I gave last week Thursday to a company of some 30 young ladies—very bright they were, and responsive. It was the most successful so far of all I have done. To-morrow afternoon I give to the girls parents. They are reputed to have culture & money, & to be "very swell." If they receive me as pleasantly as the young folk did, I shall at least, enjoy the occasion myself. The young ladies, ranging from 18 to 25 perhaps, were all alert, sympathetic, eager, enthusiastic. I drew with chalk & worked the clay—modeling rough a head of Cleveland,11 & then, changing it to Harrison12—a work not exceeding five minutes.13 They happened to be all republicans, so I finished on the top wave of great applause. Then they gathered around & took a poke at the clay themselves— told me they are mostly graduates of Welsely College, near Boston. I was engaged for an hour, but 3 hours passed before the company broke up, with lunch & souvenirs of little clay heads.

This introduction promises to expand into a winter's work very pleasing and [financialy?] satisfying, as well. To-morrow I am to take all the art-work I have here, & the lady is to procure other things so we can turn her back parlor into a studio on wh. she can open her [folding?] doors at the appointed hour. It is suggested that I call these entertainments Morse's Studios—so people will say, "Go to, now: let us have one of Morse's Studios in our parlors. It is quite the thing." Ahem! Let the lady that presides over your house read this & say how it sounds.

We are having charming weather just now. The Election interest warms up & the din is to be heard every evening. It looks to me as though Harrison has made a steady gain over the country, while Cleveland has been guilty of much clap-trap. Undoubtedly the situation in N.Y. has grown desperate. Some of Harrison's little speeches I have noticed have been excellent in form & sentiment. He has certainly grown himself & in public estimtation. At first it looked as though Blaine14 would eclipse [the Harrison?] but quietly he has come to the front, & Blaine has fallen back. B's reception here was hearty, but when H's name was mentioned the audience rose to their feet.

I am a looker on. The issue of the voting not so much, but the [education?] of the campaign very much. The whole business of government is getting quite an airing.

The little suggestions of Chicago coldness we have had, so penetrating to bone & marrow, cause me to dread the coming winter. I'd like a Southern trip. With many thinkings of you constantly, & love,


Sidney.

665 W. Lake St.


Correspondent:
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.

Notes:

1. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, 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]

2. 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]

3. "Broad brims" was a colloquial term for Quakers, referring to the style of hats the Quaker men typically wore. Morse spent a great deal of time in Richmond, Indiana, a thriving Quaker community, and did a bust of Elias Hicks while living there. His mother was from Richmond, and Morse is buried there. [back]

4. Probably James Vila Blake (1842–1925), a Unitarian minister at the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago during the 1880s and 1890s. He was also a poet, hymn writer, and playwright. [back]

5. Unity was a weekly newspaper published by the Western Unitarian Conference. [back]

6. 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 mid-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]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. 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, Pennsylvania: David McKay, 1882). [back]

9. 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]

10. Morse, a self-taught sculptor, made four plaster busts of Whitman, a bust of the Quaker minister Elias Hicks, and a statue of President Grover Cleveland. Morse is likely referring to similar works, including likenesses of the poet Thomas Carlyle and the American essayist and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, that were purchased by the woman who also hired him to provide parlor entertainments in her home. [back]

11. Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) was the twenty-second and twenty-fourth U.S. president. Cleveland was the leader of the "Bourbon Democrats," whose policies opposed high tariffs and subsidies to businesses. In 1888, he was the early favorite for the Republican presidential nomination but eventually lost out to Benjamin Harrison, whom he then endorsed. [back]

12. Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) was the twenty-third U.S. president and grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison. Harrison was the Republican nominee who defeated Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland in 1888. [back]

13. The 1888 presidential election was between Republican William Harrison and Democrat Grover Cleveland. Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the election in the Electoral College. [back]

14. James G. Blaine (1830–1893) was an American statesman and Republican politician. He served in the House of Representatives (1863–1876), Senate (1876–1881), and twice as Secretary of State (1881, 1889–1892). Blaine was the Republican presidential nominee in 1884, when he was narrowly defeated by Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland. [back]


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