Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: George Parsons Lathrop to Walt Whitman, 31 March 1885

Date: March 31, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03232

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Lathrop," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, Paige Wilkinson, and Amanda J. Axley

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6

78 E. 55th St1
New York
Mar 31/85

Dear Whitman:

We have started here a plan for some Authors' Readings in aid of International Copyright, to be given at the Madison Square Theatre April 28, 29 & 30, from 4 o'clock to 6 in the afternoon.

The use of the theatre is given free. Five or six authors will read each day. A committee of ladies, of prominent & influential position, will dispose of the tickets, & all that authors have to do is to give their services. Howells,2 Warner,3 Mark Twain,4 Dr. Eggleston5 & Frank Stockton6 have all promised to take part. We have hopes, also, of Holmes7 & others. I am asked to invite you to come & read on one of the days, & I add to this my own earnest request that you will do so. It will be a great help to us, to have you. Regarding the selection you may prefer, please give me your views. I know there is a great desire to have you give "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed"8—or at least a part of it. Will you not heed this desire? It would be a revelation—a thing to be remembered for many years.

I feel pretty sure that you are in accord with the object, & that you will respond to the idea that it is well for the authors to help themselves & their foreign brothers in this matter—by standing up & doing something practical to help on the International Copyright agitation.9 We shall be able with little effort, by this plan, to raise a substantial fund with which to prepare for hard work in Congress next December.—The question of expense need not stand in your way. We will pay all your expenses.—Please write me speedily, in a day or two, so that I may announce your participation.10

Always faithfully yours
G P Lathrop

George Parsons Lathrop (1851–1898) was an American poet and novelist. He was also the biographer of his father-in-law, Nathaniel Hawthorne. For more on him, see The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, ed. Rossiter Johnson and John Howard Brown (Boston: Biographical Society, 1904), 360.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden, N.J. It is postmarked: New York | MAR 31 | 4 PM | G; Camden, [N.J.] | Apr [illegible] | 1885 | Re[c'd]. [back]

2. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]

3. Lathrop is likely referring to Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900), who was an essayist and novelist, as well as a friend of the American humorist, Mark Twain. Warner co-authored the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) with Twain. [back]

4. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910), better know by his pen name, Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, lecturer, and publisher. Twain is best known for authoring such novels as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). Twain attended Whitman's New York lecture on the death of Lincoln in April 1887. He also contributed to Thomas Donaldson's fund for the purchase of a horse and buggy for Whitman (see Whitman's September 22, 1885, letter to Herbert Gilcrist), as well as to the fund to build Whitman a private cottage (see Whitman's October 7, 1887, letter to Sylvester Baxter). Twain was reported in the Boston Herald of May 24, 1887 to have said: "What we want to do is to make the splendid old soul comfortable" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 268). [back]

5. Edward Eggleston (1837–1902), an Indiana native, was an American author and historian who was known for his "Hoosier" series of writings. [back]

6. Frank R. Stockton (1834–1902), of Philadelphia, was an American author and humorist best known for writing children's literature. He was the author of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (1882) and numerous other fables and fairy tales that were very popular in the late nineteenth century. [back]

7. 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]

8. An elegy that mourns both personal and national loss, Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd" was composed only weeks after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865. The poem first appeared in the 1871–1872 edition of Leaves of Grass under its original title. For more on the poem, see R. W. French, "'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' [1865]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. In 1885, the Bern Convention (previously, International Convention for Protection of Literary and Artistic Works) addressed an international system of copyright, and an international copyright agreement was adopted by the conference in 1886. However, the United States did not subscribe to the convention, and it would be years before The International Copyright Act of 1891, also referred to as the Chace Act, became the first U.S. Congressional Act to extend some limited copyright protections to foreign copyright holders from select nations. [back]

10. There is no evidence that Whitman responded to Lathrop's request. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.