Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 11 July 1890

Date: July 11, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03205

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: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Stephanie Blalock

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374 E. Division St. Chicago—
July 11, 1890.

Dear Walt—

I have lately discovered in Englewood a nest of your friends, & among them to particularly mention are Dr Champlin & wife.1 The Dr is a genuine sort of an oddity with brains and generous human impulses. He is proud of an oration he gave before the County Normal School in which he has a refference to you. At my request he sends the paragraph on the back of his own photo. His wife has for years been an invalid & they are not blest with children. He has a certain glumness of facial expression and and abruptness of speech, and a dont-care-a-bit air about him, which deceives some of his neighbors, & they put him down as "pessimistic." (By the way, that is a word so common just now with aspiring people here. Wheresoever I go some one will be sure to say—"Yes, but dont you think he (or she) takes a pessimistic view of life?" And I feel so like retorting bluntly & vehemently,—"Damn it, no! Why in hell should he?" The smack of incincere, pretentious "culture" is so apparent and exasperating.) Champlin simply despised so much of the gibberish that he is forced to encounter, and hasn't the grace to conceal his [growl?].

But poor Mrs. C. is mild-mannered and considerate while she is equally fun & intelligent. She thinks very much of your poems and has been ever since she heard that I had seen you eager to know all I could tell her. I gave her the little plaque I made of you,2 which hangs conspicuously in the little study—What do you think, (or whom, rather) she wants me to make as companion? Why, old Socrates!3 I suppose I must do it. She is utterly helpless save a slight use of her hands, and sits all day in a low wheeled-chair; Suffers much & has tears of great frustration. But when I go over to talk of you, or Emerson,4 Carlyle5 or Cleveland,6 whom she has a liking for, she puts her ailings aside. My drawings and my clay greatly interest her and a large company of boys & girls who flock to her porch ("stoop" I called it to the wonderment of the children). The Dr is anxious that I should teach modeling at the Normal School [this?] next year, but all I know can be put in so small a space I fear it would not stretch through a whole season.

It would greatly interest her & soften her affliction if she had a line of yours written with your swan's pen. When years ago she admired your "Leaves of Grass" the wrapper had something written on it which she preserves.

I am glad to hear how comfortable you keep, despite the beseiged body, and hope you may count yet many more birth days on the already good list.

As for myself I am hopeful amid tribulations of pocket that seem to pursue me ever. I think it would be a good psychological study for some one to regard me as I am for a week or two and then suddenly endow me with a warm million. In the various drudgeries I have performed in past years (for the sake of somewhat worthwhile if I never get it) I am sure I have earned it all. I'd not say "Beggar that I am, I thank you," but, "Ah, ha! God sends my due—or approximates it. My busts sell, but my landlord stands at the door.

My7 lectures succeed, but the money they bring takes me back home, & then comes a dying whisper—"nothing left—exhausted."

Kind8 regards to Mrs. D.9 In the Fall or Winter I mean to come to Camden.

S. H. Morse

Sidney H. Morse 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 early 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), 57–84.


1. Alfred H. Champlin was a practicing physician, as well as a school politician in Cook County, Illinois. He was married to Mary M. Champlin, with whom he had adopted a daughter. [back]

2. Morse made numerous representations of Whitman, including two bas-reliefs. [back]

3. Socrates (c. 470–399 BC) was a classic Greek philsopher, and he is known as a founder of Western thought and as the first moral philosopher. The most comprehensive account of Socrates is found in Plato's dialogues; Plato, also an Athenian philosopher, was a student of Socrates. [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. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View" in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), 168–170 and 170–178. [back]

6. 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]

7. Morse continues this fourth page of the letter in the left margin of the page. [back]

8. Morse writes this postscript in the left margin of the first page of the letter. [back]

9. 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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