Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Unidentified Correspondent to Walt Whitman, 20 January 1890

Date: January 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04937

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.

Related item: On the verso of this leaf Whitman drafted a poem entitled, "Sail out for good, Eidólon yacht," under the heading Old Age Recitatives. The lines from "Sail out for good, Eidólon yacht" are written on the back of the letter, and the heading "Old Age Recitatives" is written on the envelope accompanying this letter.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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Camden, N.J.1

Dear Sir;—

I am an earnest collector of the autographs of prominent men; and would be greatly pleased to place your autograph among those of some grand poets, such as I have among my treasured list. As those of Whittier,2 Holmes,3 and Lord Tennyson,4 and may I soon place your autograph among those who you are worthy to be placed.

Dear Sir, Oliver W. Holmes kindly wrote for me his poem, "The Last Leaf"; and Tennyson wrote for me the first verse of his beautiful "Break Break Break." Would you kindly do likewise. How I would treasure a poem from "the good gray poet."

Sir, if you wish to comply with5

As yet we have no information about this correspondent.


1. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman— | Poet— | Camden— | New Jersey—. It is postmarked: New York | JAN20 | 2PM | 90; [illegible]mden, N.J. | Jan | 21 | 6AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]

2. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) earned fame as a staunch advocate for the abolition of slavery. As a poet, he employed traditional forms and meters, and, not surprisingly, he was not an admirer of Whitman's unconventional prosody. For Whitman's view of Whittier, see the poet's numerous comments throughout the nine volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden (various publishers: 1906–1996) and Whitman's "My Tribute to Four Poets," in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882–'83), 180–181. [back]

3. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894) was a Bostonian author, physician, and lecturer. One of the Fireside Poets, he was a good friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as John Burroughs. Holmes remained ambivalent about Whitman's poetry. He married Amelia Lee Jackson in 1840 and they had three children, including the later Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. For more information, see Julie A. Rechel-White, "Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1809–1894)," (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, eds. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 280). [back]

4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]

5. The remainder of this letter is not extant. [back]


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