Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Frank and Ellen Webb to Walt Whitman, 22 December 1891

Date: December 22, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04644

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, Stephanie Blalock, and Brandon James O'Neil

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Dec. 22 1891

To Walt Whitman
America's Poet1
Dear Sir

I do not know if this will come too late. I hope not. I saw by one of the Daily Papers that you were sick with pneumonia & write at once after puting it off so long.

The news to tell is that a drak blue eyed baby came from the some where to the Here Sep 29th 1891 3 days before Mrs. G. Cleavland gave birth to a daughter.2 The argument was which was the name most fited for the Baby that came to our Humble Home. Walter Whitman or Grover Cleaveland3

The ballot was cast and it was decided in favor of Walter Whitman after Walt Whitman, America's Poet I have had on my mind for 3 years those beautiful lines—about the "grass" The leaves of Grass that the little child brought with full hands and asked you "what is the Grass"4—so wonderfull a question & so wonderfull an answer that you gave I have been & still continue to be enthralled with your writings & when our last Baby came it being a Boy with Dark Blue Beautiful eyes I said we must call Him Walter Whitman Webb5 3 days after the Ex President's Wife gave Birth to a daughter now, must we change our first decision & put a "cleave" to it, no. we love Walter Best there seemed more poetry to that name than any others & it is & will be W. W. W.

Now I wish to ask you is "Walt," or "Walter" right. And is there an edition published with all your poems & writings in complete6? I must have it if there is so that Walter Whitman Webb shall have them when he learns to read.

We remain.
Yours Respectfully
Frank & Ellen
Walter Whitman Webb

81 Sheridan Street
Jamaica Plain

Frank Webb (1864–1944) and Ellen Pears Nind Webb (1864–1944) were born in England and emigrated to the United States around 1885. The couple married in 1887 and settled in the Boston area, where they spent the remainder of their lives. Their first child, Frank Webb Jr., was born in 1890. Walter Whitman Webb, their second child, arrived one year later but died in 1893, about one year before his brother Frank also died. The Webbs had two daughters who reached maturity, Winona E. Marshall (1894–1971) and Doris Hughes (1898–1974). Frank worked as a milk dealer at the time of their marriage and was later a baker for over thirty years. For more information, see Frank's obituary, "Frank Webb" in The Boston Globe (December 10, 1944), 36.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | America's Poet | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | Philadelphia. It is postmarked: RECEIVED | DEC | 26 | 7[30?] PM | 1891 | [PHILDELPHIA]; PHILA[DELPHIA] | DEC | 26 | 1891 | TRANSIT; PHILA[DELPHIA] DEC | 26 | AM | TRANSIT | CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC 2 [illegible]; BOSTON, MASS | DEC 26 | 4—AM | 1891. [back]

2. Frances Clara Folsom Cleveland Preston (1864–1947), of Buffalo, New York, was the First Lady of the United States from 1886 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897, as the wife of President Grover Cleveland. The Clevelands first daughter Ruth was born in 1891, and it is her birth to which Frank and Ellen Webb are referring in this letter. [back]

3. Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) was the twenty-second and twenty-fourth U.S. president. Cleveland was the leader of the "Bourbon Democrats," whose policies opposed high tariffs and subsidies to businesses. In 1888, he was the early favorite for the Republican presidential nomination but eventually lost out to Benjamin Harrison, whom he then endorsed. [back]

4. The Webbs are referring to lines from Whitman's poem "Song of Myself." [back]

5. Walter Whitman Webb (1891–1893) died when he was two years old. [back]

6. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary. [back]


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