Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Edmund Clarence Stedman to Walt Whitman, 21 May 1890

Date: May 21, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04590

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 note: The annotation, "Copied: see notes May 22, 1890," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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137 West 78th. Street, New York,1
May 21st. 1890.

My Dear Walt Whitman—

I have got up very early this morning, expressly to write you, knowing I should have no other chance to-day; but the getting-up, of itself, is unusually remunerative—for, if the sun of America & righteousness streams into your window at this moment, as it does into mine, you will feel glad that you have lived to see another May. The papers tell me more or less about you, and I often think of you—be sure—& most certainly about lilac- and Lincoln-time. However, you have not been off my perturbed mind for many months; nor has the treasured book of "Camden's compliments"2 been off my table. Traubel3 sent it to me; I know I have not thanked him—you must do it for me, most heartily. Moreover, the Brinton-Davidson "Bruno"4 came, and nothing is ever more grateful to me than to receive a bit of your strong handwriting, like that on its wrapper,—a "personally remembered," as it were. The truth, at last, is that I had purposed to go down to Camden (for the first time) & see you this last winter, & so have not written you. ('Tis a trip I shall yet make, D. V.5—to use the protestant adjuration). But I have had a bad time, with much trouble about money—owing to neglect to earn it while engrossed with driving through the "Lib. Amer. Literature," and then with my beautiful mother's6 death, my reckless son's7 divorce, and other Orestean cumulations of trouble. At last the clouds are lifting, & I am trying to get into routine & self-poise.

Everything is all right in the world, of course, for both you and me. What particularly draws me to you, as we grow older and more general, is that your optimism strengthens my own. Your later poems on life, death, immortality, are of the highest worth to me. I read them often, and intend to refer considerably to them in my Johns Hopkins lectures on poetry8—which I am now beginning to prepare. In tone, rhythm, feeling, breadth & depth of thought, they seem to me at the apex of your life-works—they reach in the Empyrean.

You know I am one of those who have the privilege of sharing my scrip with you, my dear elder bard, when there is anything in it, and now, for the first time in months I have paid up my borrowed money, & have something that is my own to share. I wish the little enclosure9 were more—and I want to say that, the very next time you find your own scrip empty, Traubel must again give me a chance with the rest of your devoted friends.

Pray don't feel moved to acknolwedge this tardy letter. I should feel miserable to add the grasshopper that is a burden to one's afternoon of life. My table is covered with letters I can't get time & strength to answer. When telepathy can take the place of manual writing, we shall be blessed indeed.—I miss O'Connor.10 Was fortunate in having an evening with him, in Washington, before he passed away. His widow11 is thinking of a memoir, or memorial volume. Forgive this long, yet hasty, letter. Vol. XI (& last!) of the "Library" will soon be out12; & I am, with increased honor & affection

Your Devoted Friend,
Edmund C. Stedman.


Correspondent:
Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. Stedman wrote this letter with an early typewriter, which only typed in capital letters. The transcription provided here does not reproduce this feature of the original typescript. [back]

2. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919],"Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Martyr (1890) consisted of two speeches before the Philadelphia Contemporary Club by Daniel G. Brinton (1837–1899), a pioneer in the study of anthropology and a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and by Thomas Davidson (1840–1900), a Scottish philosopher and author. It included a prefatory note by Whitman dated February 24, 1890 (see The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892, ed. by Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [1963–1964], 2:676–677). In his essay Brinton links the poet with Bruno in his rejection of the "Christian notion of sin as a positive entity" (34). On April 4, 1890, Whitman sent copies of the book to John Addington Symonds, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gabriel Sarrazin, T. H. Rolleston, and W. M. Rossetti (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also Whitman's April 11, 1890, letter to Bucke. After the poet presented him with a copy of Complete Poems & Prose, Brinton expressed his thanks effusively on April 12, 1890[back]

5. The Latin phrase, "Deo volente," meaning "God willing." [back]

6. Elizabeth Clementine Dodge Stedman (1810–1889) was a writer and a contributor to magazines including the Knickerbocker and to Blackwood's. She was the daughter of David Low Dodge (1774–1852), one of the founders of the New York Bible Society and the New York Peace Society, and Sara Cleveland Dodge. Stedman spent fourteen years abroad publishing in Europe, where she became a friend of the English poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Stedman authored such works as Felicita (1855) and Bianco Capello, A Tragedy (1873). [back]

7. Arthur Stedman was Edmund's son. In 1892, he brought out his own editions of Whitman's Selected Poems and a selection of Whitman's prose writings entitled Autobiographia[back]

8. Edmund Clarence Stedman lectured on "The Nature and Elements of Poetry" as part of his Percy Trumbull Memorial Lectureship of Poetry at Johns Hopkins University in 1891; Whitman is mentioned in the lectures several times. The lectures were later published by Houghton, Mifflin. [back]

9. With this letter, Steadman sent a check for twenty-five dollars to be put towards the fund that covered Whitman's expenses. For more information, see Traubel's notes in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 22, 1890[back]

10. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

12. The eleventh and final volume of Stedman's Library of American Literatureappeared later in 1890. [back]


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