Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Lucy L. Trautwine to Walt Whitman, 8 March 1891

Date: March 8, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04249

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, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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3301 Haverford st.
March 8. 1891

Mr. Walt Whitman,
Dear Sir:

In Montreux, Switzerland, a year ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting Clifford Harrison,1 an English "musical reciter," artist, poet, musician and gentleman; who, after expressing his warm admiration and affection for yourself, mentioned that he had heard Tennyson2 speak in much the same way.

My husband ("J.C.T. Jr")3 casually mentioned this in writing to a friend who at once replied saying he had a friend who knew you, and asking that we get from Mr. Harrison a more definite statement of what Tennyson had said. Our friend believed that you would be gratified by such a message.

I had then gone to Italy, but I at once wrote Mr. Harrison and soon received from him a very charming letter, expressing not only what he remembered of Tennyson's words, but also his own very deep feelings toward you, and giving me permission to forward the letter to our friend for you, which of course I did, and I have always understood that you received it; but I am surprised to see that in Lippincott's4 (foot-note to p 381) you quote, instead of this, from my husband's letter to our friend (it was from not to, J.C.T. Jr); and I therefore cannot help questioning whether you ever received Mr. Harrison's letter to me, which must have given you far more pleasure than my husband's very dubious applause, which indeed he never dreamed would meet your eye, still less that of the public.5

I value Mr. Harrison's letters and have been comforting my soul with the idea that you prized the one I refer to, so much that you wished to keep it; but I cannot understand why you did not quote directly from it.

Is it possible that in all the delightful chaos of your home, Mr. Harrison's letter has been lost sight of?6 He is a man, whose natural refinement of both mind and temperment makes his love and praise, a thing to be grateful for, even by so great a poet as yourself; he used to say that your poems alone "took him out of doors," and though keenly susceptible himself to the beauty of rhythm, he used to smile compassionately when we objected to what we called the "rockiness" of your verses.

We intensely enjoyed Mr. Harrison's "musical recitations," in which he accompanied the spoken words with chords and melodies, always reminding me of walking alone through the woods and hearing the wind in the branches of the trees, which to my fanciful imagination, whistled merrily, or moaned sadly, according to my thoughts.

Unfortunately Mr. Harrison's ill-health prevents his continuing his work or coming to America as he had hoped to do. He made me feel that we, your neighbors, were unappreciative and stupid when he sang your praises and said that one of his first pleasures upon arriving in America, would be to try to be admitted to your presence. I even planned silently to myself that after I returned home I would go over to Camden and pass your house in the hope of seeing you at your window. But your message to me "Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak me? And why should I not speak to you?"7 emboldens me to ask whether my husband and I may not call upon you some day at your convenience. It would be a great treat to us and we will promise not to bore you.

Yours sincerely
Lucy L. Trautwine

Lucy Lane Trautwine (1853–1925) was known for her participation in civic and charitable causes as a committee member for the Civic Club of Philadelphia. During World War I, Trautwine organized a collection of kidskin gloves to be re-purposed for the lining of soldiers' coats, and she served for twelve years as Chair of the Transit Conditions Committee that represented the interests of travelers and drivers during the rapid modernization of Philadelphia's public transit system. For more information, see Trautwine's obituary in the Red Bank Register, 48.13 (September 16, 1925), 14.


1. Clifford Harrison (1857–1903) was the son of William Harrison, a manager of the English Opera Company. He began acting as a teenager and quickly became a popular reciter of poetry and drama, often accompanying himself on the piano with atmospheric music. Among his repertoire was Walt Whitman's "Passage to India." Harrison was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1880s, and until his death he would spend most of the year in the Riviera and come to England for recitals only during the summer months. In his final years, he devoted himself to sketching and writing books of poetry–In Hours of Leisure (1887), On the Common Chords (1895), and Echoes (1900)–as well as compiling the two volume Stray Records: Or, Personal and Professional Notes (1892). In this latter volume, Harrison devotes several passages to Whitman. For Harrison's own account of his work, see Archibald Cromwell, "A Famous Reciter and His Art: A Conversation with Mr. Clifford Harrison," The Windsor Magazine 3 (1896): 648–651. [back]

2. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

3. John C. Trautwine, Jr. (1850–1924), an authority on water conservation, was the Chief Engineer for the Philadelphia Bureau of Water from 1895 to 1899. He was married to Lucy Lane Trautwine. He and his father, John C. Trautwine, wrote and/or revised books on civil engineering, including the Civil Engineer's Pocket Book, which went through several editions. [back]

4. In March 1891, Lippincott's Magazine published "Old Age Echoes," a cycle of four poems including "Sounds of the Winter," "The Unexpress'd," "Sail Out for Good, Eidólon Yacht," and "After the Argument," accompanied by an extensive autobiographical note called "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda." Also appearing in that issue was a piece on Whitman entitled, "Walt Whitman: Poet and Philosopher and Man" by Horace Traubel. [back]

5. In Whitman's "Some Personal and Old-Age Memoranda," he does include a footnote "from an English letter, summer of 1890, to J. C. T., jr., Philadelphia," and reprints a passage from that letter affirming that Tennyson and "Mr. Harrison" in England both admire Whitman's work; Whitman also quotes the writer of the letter as saying "There are many fine things in W. W.'s writings, but I cannot help wishing he had put them into prose, instead of into such rocky verse" (Lippincott's Monthly Magazine 47 [March 1891], 381). [back]

6. On March 10, Horace Traubel received a letter from Mr. Trautwine, which explains the confusion about his remarks that Whitman had quoted in his footnote to his Lippincott's article. Traubel also notes that the letter from Harrison that Mrs. Trautwine assumes Whitman received in fact never arrived. See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 10, 1891. Traubel's March 11, 1891, entry indicates that Whitman valued Mrs. Trautwine's letter ("She writes in a warm, generous, friendly way: it is precious to me") and records Whitman's confirmation that he had never received Harrison's letter (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 11, 1891). On April 5, 1891, Traubel reports that Whitman had "cut out . . . Trautwine's note" in revising the Lippincott's piece for publication in Good-Bye My Fancy (1891): see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, April 5, 1891. On August 23, 1891, Mr. Trautwine wrote to Traubel to report that he had found the misplaced Harrison letter, and he forwarded it to Traubel to show to Whitman; see With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 25, 1891[back]

7. Trautwine is referencing Whitman's poem "To You." [back]


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