Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Harry R. Maginley to Walt Whitman, 3 May 1890

Date: May 3, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03261

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Brandon James O'Neil, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, Paige Wilkinson, and Amanda J. Axley

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Norristown, Pa.,1
May 3, 1890.

Mr. Walt Whitman, Camden,
Dear Sir:

Perhaps it is not infrequent that you are troubled with such as I. I am one of these fellows who wish to know what you think of my productions.

I am struggling for a position in the literary army, but it is a hard struggle, I tell you. I am nineteen years of age and have written quite a bit—poetry, humorous sketches, etc. I seem to be pretty good in the the humorous line; I wish to know whether I am a poet that is to be, or not.

I don't think I could find a better critic than you. If you will have the gracious kindness to pass your opinion on the enclosed verses I will give you a "soldier's, traveller's thanks"2 one hundred times over.

I thought perhaps, you being an old veteran at it and knowing what is and what is not, you would kindly grant my request.

You will find on perusing the verses that I am a little melancholy in my tone, much more so than you.

Mr. Whitman if this is intrusion upon your valuable time, I would be pleased were you to say so.

Take your time to criticize these—no hurry. You will find a stamp enclosed for their return and your answer.

Most truthfully yours
H.R. Maginley

Norristown, Pa.

[H. R. Maginley, Norristown, Pa.]

Life and Death3

Dance on fair Life, yet a short while
Will I allow thee to exist;
But soon I'll cast my icy dart
To still the beating of thy heart
For I am king. Your drooping flower,
In all its blushing innocence, must meet its hour.
All things that are, all things that are to come
Be they as pure as miry Hell is lewd,
Or sunk in sin as black as God is good,
Must to my power succumb and fall
The blended glories 'bove the sky,
And all the woes that belching Hell doth fling,
The fickle wind that swift goes flitting by
All these are mine; for I am king.

Ay, so it is, mysterious Death.
Thy solemn sickle cleaveth all;
Thou layest in silent sheaves the good,
And by their side the foolish lewd

In thy weird tomb Thy venomed [slime?]
Began to pour when struck the first great, clashing gong of Time;
To eat all things that do exist, or shall,
Thy office is, for, lo, the Law—
Untiring change—doth thy allegiance draw,
And steal away thy horror's pall.
But when the hut wherein I thrive
Doth tumble down a senseless hump and dry,
When thou doth me from the great whole deprive,
Then, thou, grim Death, thyself must die

(H.R.Maginley, Norristown, Pa.


Tis midnight solemn and serene
That wields her gentle power.
How truly beautiful the scene!
How sweetly still the hour!
You silv'ry lake, whose rippling wave
The emerald grass around doth lave,
Reflects the hurrying worlds on high,
And choruses with evening's sigh.

Lo! far off in the Eastern blue,
By fleecy clouds entrapt,
A laughing, silver moon doth view
The Whole, in slumber wrapt.
The mountains hoary and sublime,—
Grand monuments of Father Time—
Robed in a sleeping forest's fur,
Do rise majestic in the air.

The billowy land rolls off to meet
Horizon's azure vail;
The brook flows on with tinkling sweet
The distant wood to hail.
Methinks strange, nightly voices tell
About a lovely Spirit Dell,
Where lives the God who gave serene
And awe-inspiring midnight being.

H. R. Maginley.6

Harry R. Maginley (1872–1941) was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and was an editor at the Norristown Times Herald. In 1900, he married Nellie E. McCall and had one child, Harry Creston Maginley. In the early 1890s, Maginley contributed poems to local newspapers, with pieces appearing in The Times (Philadelphia, PA, "Eddie's Explanation" [August 9, 1891], 15) and the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA, "Tommy's Excuse" [August 28, 1891], 7). Maginley won first prize for an editorial on "The Tariff Problem" published in The Times (Philadelphia, PA) on May 20, 1900. His poem "A Little Traveler" appears in Our Little Kings and Queens at Home and School (Chicago: Louis Benham and Company, 1891), a collection of poems, stories, and songs for kindergarteners edited by Lida Brooks Miller. According to census and local records, he lived in Norristown his entire life and is buried with his family in Norristown's Riverside Cemetery.


1. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman | No. 328 Mickle St., | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Norris[town] | May | 3 | 18[90] | 7AM | P.A.; P[hiladelp]hia, PA. | MAY | 6 | 1890 | Transit; Camden, N, J. | May | 6 [illegible].  [back]

2. Maginley is referring to the final line of Whitman's poem "Thanks in Old Age." [back]

3. Whitman wrote a poem called "Life and Death" that was first published in the New York Herald on May 23, 1888. [back]

4. The paper is folded at the bottom and obscures what appears to be Maginley's name. [back]

5. Whitman wrote a poem called "A Clear Midnight," first published in the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

6. The page containing Maginley's poem "Midnight" has a stamp attached at the top of the page; on the verso, Maginley began to copy his poem "Midnight" but crossed out the title and opening line. [back]


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