Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James Redpath to Walt Whitman, 16 July 1885

Date: July 16, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03286

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

Editorial notes: The annotation, "from Jas Redpath abt articles on Lincoln and on War incidents | both articles sent accepted & paid for," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes July 29 1888 | also Aug 1st," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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July 16th 1885.

Walt Whitman,
Camden, N.J.
Dear Walt Whitman:

I got your letter when I was in Washington and fully expected to stay over and see you on my return,1 but I was kept so much longer than I thought I would be kept and so much more work was thrown on me that I was compelled to hurry back to New York by night. It is possible that I may be in Philadelphia this week—indeed it is probable—and in that case I shall certainly cross the ferry; but in the meantime why should you be idle? I shall not presume to give you any hints as to how to write; I think you know what I want:—

1st. Lincoln: Mr. Rice2 has got the ambition of editing a work that can never be superseded.3 He proposes to get every man of note now living who ever met Lincoln to write down in plain words and as accurately as the human memory will record, just what Lincoln did; just how Lincoln looked; just what impression Lincoln made on him. However, he does not want the last clause (that is to say, the impressions) recorded by anybody but only by men whose names will go down to history. Like Gradgrind,4 "what he wants is facts."

You, of course, are among the favored few whose impressions will be acceptable; so, you see, if you will write down an account of every interview you ever had with Lincoln, that will complete what I ask of you in his name on that subject.

2d Memoires of the War.

He would like from you an account of some phase of the Civil War which you witnessed. But I will see you before you have time, probably, to write the second article, and, possible, I may be able to suggest the best topic from his point of view to begin with.

Now, my dear Walt Whitman, won't you go to work at once because Rice is chained lightning in a dress suit and damned impatient.

Yours Ever,
Jas Redpath

James Redpath (1833–1891), an antislavery activist, journalist, and longtime friend of Whitman, was the author of The Public Life of Capt. John Brown (Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860), a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, and the originator of the "Lyceum" lectures. He met Whitman in Boston in 1860, and he remained an enthusiastic admirer; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, January 4, 1889. He concluded his first letter to Whitman on June 25, 1860: "I love you, Walt! A conquering Brigade will ere long march to the music of your barbaric jawp." Redpath became managing editor of The North American Review in 1886. See also Charles F. Horner, The Life of James Redpath and the Development of the Modern Lyceum, (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1926); John R. McKivigan, Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); and J.R. LeMaster, "Redpath, James [1833–1891]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Whitman's letter does not appear to be extant. [back]

2. Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) purchased The North American Review in 1876. See also the letter from Whitman to John Burroughs of February 1, 1881[back]

3. See Redpath's letter to Whitman of June 30, 1885[back]

4. Mr. Thomas Gradgrind is a character in Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times and a notorious number-cruncher. [back]


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