Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louis H. Sullivan to Walt Whitman, 3 February 1887

Date: February 3, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04753

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Louis Sullivan," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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Room 56 Borden Block, Chicago, Feby 3d 18871

My dear and honoured Walt Whitman:—

It is less than a year ago that I made your acquaintance so to speak, quite by accident, searching among the shelves of a bookstore.

I was attracted by the curious title "Leaves of Grass", opened the book at random, and my eyes met the lines of "Elemental Drifts"

You then and there entered my soul, have not departed, and never will depart.

Be assured that there is at least one (and I hope there are many others) who understands you as you wish to be understood; one, moreover, who has weighed you in the balance of his intuition and finds you the greatest of poets.

To a man who can resolve himself into subtile unison with Nature and Humanity as you have done, who can blend the soul harmoniously with materials, who sees good in all and o'erflows in sympathy toward all things, enfolding them with his spirit: to such a man I joyfully give the name of Poet:— the most precious of all names.

At the time I first met your work, I was engaged upon the essay which I herewith send you. I had just finished "Decadence". In the "Spring Song" and the "Song of the Depths" my orbit responded to the new attracting sun.2

I send you this essay, because it is your opinion of it above all other opinions that I should most highly value. What you may say in praise and encouragement will please me, but sympathetic surgery will better please.

I know that I am not presuming, for have you not said:— "I concentrate toward them that are nigh."—"will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already to late?"

After all,—words fail me, in writing to you. Imagine that I have expressed to you my sincere conviction of what I owe.

The essay is my "first effort," at the age of 30. I, too, "have sweated through fog with linguists and contenders" I, too, "have pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair", searching for the basis of a virile and indigenous art. Holding on in silence to this day, for fear of foolish utterances, I hope at least that my words may carry the weight of conviction.

Trusting that it may not be in vain that I hope to hear from you, believe me, noble man, affectionately your distant friend,

Louis H. Sullivan

Louis Henry Sullivan (1856–1924) was an American modernist architect and later mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. He is often called the "father of skyscrapers." See: Kevin Murphy "Walt Whitman and Louis Sullivan: The Aesthetics of Egalitarianism," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 6, no. 1 (1988), 1–15.


1. This letter is written on letterhead from the office of Adler & Sullivan, Architects, and the name and address of the firm, along with the date of February 3, 1887, appears on the front of each of the four pages of Sullivan's letter. Adler and Sullivan's address is also printed on the envelope. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | N. J. It is postmarked: [illegible] | [illegible] | 11AM | 87; [illegible] | Feb | 10AM | 1887 | Rec'd. [back]

2. Sullivan's 1886 "Essay on Inspiration" was divided into three parts: "Growth, a Spring Song," "Decadence: Autumn Reverie," and "The Infinite: A Song of the Depths." [back]


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