Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Sylvester Baxter to Walt Whitman, 13 July 1888

Date: July 13, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07103

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 annotations, "see notes Aug 24 1888," and "See notes," are in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Ledgewood Terrace,1
Murray Street, Malden.
July 13, '88.

My dear friend:

I have just heard from Kennedy2 that your illness continues. We had been hoping that the recovery would be more lasting and that the summer days would see you driving out and enjoying the precious sunshine. We had also been looking forward to the pleasure of feeling that you were comfortably domiciled in the desired cottage of your own, away from the stifling and noisy city, but your friends who worked to that and will all feel—as one of them has expressed it — that the thought that the project has given you even the briefest joy, and that it has given you the gratification of building and dwelling therein in the world of your mind—more real than the world of sense—fully compensates them.

I am so glad that you have to help you so devoted a friend as young Traubel,3 and through you I give him my hand and my thanks.

I have lately been reading a beautiful and noble story by Edward Bellamy,4 "Looking Backward." It goes far in the direction pointed out by your prophetic "Democratic Vistas," and I hope Traubel will read it and tell you about it.

In these days the glorious words you have spoken about Death comes up in my mind, and I feel much as must have been felt by the disciples in those calm last hours of Socrates. Whether his coming be near at hand, or later, he can only take your physical presence from us and that which you have given will ever abide with us. To many whose souls you know will be realized by your words:

"I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth."5

Faithfully yours
Sylvester Baxter

Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Boston.Mass. | Jul 13 | 3-PM | 1888; Camden, N.J. | Jul | 14 | 8 AM | 1888 | Rec'd. [back]

2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Edward Bellamy (1850–1898) was an American author, best known for his utopian science fiction novel, Looking Backward, 2000–1887. For more on Bellamy, see Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944). [back]

5. This is a line from Whitman's poem "So Long!" Whitman discusses this letter with Horace Traubel in With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, August 24, 1888[back]


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