Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Russell Young to Walt Whitman, 23 October 1891

Date: October 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04889

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 notes: The annotation, "ans'd declined sent word to [Frank] Carpenter I w'd sit," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Related item: Young's stationery was a single folded sheet that created four surfaces. He wrote this letter to Whitman on surface one (which had a printed letterhead), left the verso (surface 2) blank, completed his letter on surface three, and left the verso (surface 4) blank. Whitman then wrote his October 24, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke on the blank surface 4. See loc.07893.

Contributors to digital file: Will Cooper, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock

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Union League. Philadelphia.
Oct. 23, 1891.—

My Dear Walt Whitman:

If Tuesday, November 10th.—should be a sunny day, you must give me the pleasure and favor of sending a carriage for you—to come to the Union League,—and assist in giving honor to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Florence,1 the comedians.—I have asked a small party,—a hand full, to luncheon to meet them,—and if you could be of the company, I should be most happy.—It will be private, informal,—under the rose, my desire to show two eminent & worthy men, who have given the world much in the way of sunshine, that they are well remembered in Philadelphia.—

So write me that I may send for you.—I have not seen you since I called to take leave before departing for China.—You have been much in my thoughts, ever in reverent admiration of your genius.—What a talk Robert Ingersoll2 and I had over you when we were together!

By the way, Frank Carpenter,3 who painted the Lincoln proclamation of Emancipation, told me in New York that he wanted to paint you.—I believe he gave me a commission in that regard, which I have been truant in delivering. You will I am sure allow me to deliver it, when you honor me as my guest on November 10—

Yours always
Jno. Russell Young.

Walt Whitman, Esq.

John Russell Young (1841–1899) was a noted journalist in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D. C. A Pennsylvania native, he began writing at the Philadelphia Press at age seventeen and was named a managing editor in 1862. After serving as a war journalist during the Civil War, he moved to New York in 1865 to work at the New York Tribune, which he edited from 1866 to 1868. In 1870 he established his own newspaper, the New York Standard. In 1877, he was invited to accompany President Ulysses S. Grant on a world tour; Young published Around the World with General Grant, a two-volume account of the tour, in 1879. Young's knowledge of the Chinese language earned him the position of the American ambassador to China from 1882 to 1885.


1. Joseph ("Joe") Jefferson III (1829–1905) was an American actor and one of the most famous American comedians of the nineteenth century. He was well known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle onstage. On October 23, 1891, the American journalist and diplomat John Russell Young (1840–1899) invited Whitman to an informal luncheon at the Union Club in Philadelphia in honor of Joseph Jefferson and William Jermyn Florence, stage name of Bernard Conlin, a dialect comedian. Whitman declined the invitation, according to his October 24, 1891, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]

2. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

3. Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830–1900), the American painter best known for his portrait of Abraham Lincoln, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, met Whitman following one of the poet's Lincoln lectures (see "An Old Poet's Reception," The Sun (April 15, 1887). [back]


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