Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Mary B. H. Williams to Walt Whitman, 3 September 1888

Date: September 3, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04869

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: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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No 109 North Carolina Av
Atlantic City
September 3d 1888

My Dear Mr Whitman

Frank and I read your "Old Age's Lambent Peaks"1 yesterday afternoon as we sat together by the sea and he thought and spoke much of you as he often do.

Dear Friend—I wish that you could be with us to enjoy on these, to me, beautiful grey afternoons when there is no glare from the sun, few people, so that one may be almost alone on the quiet beach and have only one's thoughts and the sounding sea.

I think you will be interested to know that my cousin, of whom I have made mention to you as being intimate with the Lewes household;2 has just returned from England where he has talked much of you. He is one of Frank's converts to the Whitman side and is now most enthusiastic and fairly raves about you.

When is the new book to be out I hope it will be a great success! You will be sorry, I am sure, to hear that Churchill3 has had Typhoid Fever he is quite recovered however by this time and is growing very stout. I dont suppose his Father ever told you, how very well he did in College last winter. He took the "English prize" and in athletics he did remarkably well, being the sixth strongest man ever examined in the University. I hope no one but yourself will see this letter as I am sure it would bore anyone else to read it but knowing your love for Churchill I have not hesitated to "[bra?]g" a little. With love from the boys and hoping you may scrawl a line just to prove you have not forgotten

Your friend
Mary B. H. Williams

Kind4 regards to Mrs. Davis.5

Mary Bartholomew Houston Williams (1844–1920) was the wife of playwright and poet Francis ("Frank") Howard Williams (1844–1922) of Germantown, Philadelphia. The couple had a wide circle of literary acquaintances. Francis Howard Williams wrote a number of essays about Whitman, and Whitman often visited the Williams family and once was photographed with them. Whitman mentions them frequently to Horace Traubel, recalling "how splendidly the Williamses have always received me in their home" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 18, 1888).


1. Whitman's poem "Old Age's Lambent Peaks" appeared in the September 1888 issue of The Century Magazine[back]

2. The English critic and philosopher George Henry Lewes (1817–1878) was the longtime partner of Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), with whom he lived for many years; both were strong supporters of Whitman and his work. Lewes had a son, Charles, who became a London city councilor. The reference here may be to this family. [back]

3. Francis Churchill Williams (1869–1945) was the son of Francis and Mary Williams and (as "Churchill Williams") published a number of short stories and novels. [back]

4. This postscript is written at the top of the first page of the letter. [back]

5. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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