Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Taylor to Walt Whitman, 9 June 1880

Date: June 9, 1880

Whitman Archive ID: man.00056

Source: Charles Sixsmith Collection at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. 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: Courtney Rebecca Lawton, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein

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Woodstown, N.J.
6th mo. 9, 1880

Walt Whitman
Dear Friend & Guide—

I was about to make another effort to find you,1 to talk over the project I wanted your advice about (the Foreign Newspaper correspondence) when lo! to-day I notice a few lines in the N.Y. Tribune to say you were in Canada (not Camden) and intended to remain North some time: then that you intended traveling to the Far South. Thinking the Register would not be as likely as a letter to catch you, in these flittings, I have enclosed proofs of pieces I mentioned to you recently.

If you get time for composition in your Summer pilgrimages, and have anything you think it worth while to say to us "Farmers", I would be glad to have the same. As such things must help your income to some extent—please write with the piece the amount,—and I will forward chk . Don't hesitate, please, to set a price, for I am only too happy to in some way to be an instrument in handing forth your Thought. Have you the Lecture on Elias Hicks2 in such shape that you can & will deliver it before an assemblage. When you return, and can come to see me, & visit awhile, think I can get a paying audience to our large Hall to hear & see you. And we being Hicksite Friends, the lecture on Hicks would be the theme of greatest interest. Think over this, please, and try to favor us with delivery of this Lecture on Hicks.

Well the Chicago Convention has ended & politics must have a lull of reaction, till the tongues of the talkers have a rest. The Greenbacks meet to-day; and soon the Democrats, to make Presidential ticket.

The clatter & chatter of "patriots" will be soon like unending "Sound of revelry by night."—till they get their offices secure! Then "the Country'll be Safe".

I spoke in the paper something favorable to Blaine,3 gave a sketch of this Editor-politician, and a portrait. Sent copy to the Senator, and there was a prompt responce of the White Plume Knight, Blaine sending me a very pleasant letter of thanks. He seems a people's favorite—but the politicians—such as Conkling4—are jealous.

But how far below the Calm, Clear Atmosphere of Contemplation and Soul Repose—that you know—is this jarring discord—Politics!

Tennyson,5 in his last poem "De Profundis" shows that his inclination is to become the mystic in his riper years. So it is with the author of "Adam Bede" (she reported Married lately), her "Theophrastus Such" I have just been reading6—filled with "wise Laws."

What has become of that excellent & very handsome Radical Review? I have first few Nos. Then it stopped coming—Failed? The best magazine sketch I had seen in any periodical, was the critical biography & essay of—Walt Whitman in its Pages. My copy was loaned round, till I fear it is lost. Hope you have a copy. If not I will try to secure one for you. The review article about yourself was fair & just

—If this letter ever overtakes such a traveler as you are, I will hope to get a line in reply—if time & inclination permit.

Fraternally Yrs.
Wm Taylor



In this column we give, from the Phila. Press, a letter from Dr. Bucke that, in justice to our Good Gray Poet, should be widely circulated. Scribblers are too prone to attack every man or woman who exhibits the least originality,—with about the same reason that the crows display in pecking to death one of their kind happening to have a white feather or other peculiarity unlike the persecutors themselves. Intolerance of religious belief has the same petty and malignant origin,—I am better and holier than thou, so go to, and be damned to everlasting torments!

We have known Walt Whitman the poet, and found him ever gentlemanly in demeanor, cleanly in habits and careful in his dress—not flaunting a red, open shirt, and wearing a tarpaulin hat as has been asserted by him enemies. Even in his younger days, there is the best of evidence that his habits were correct, and his conversation ennobling—as became one to whom was entrusted by his Creator the sacred fire of genius. If he had been ill-dressed and low-minded, it is hardly probable that the beloved poet, William Cullen Bryant, should have made young Whitman his bosom companion. Often the two youthful poets, while engaged in New York or Brooklyn printing offices, before or after working hours met to take long walks together, so that by sweet converse amid the beauties of nature, there might be satisfied that longing each possessed for the poetic and prophetic afflatus, to unravel the mystires of Life or Death.

When Walt Whitman began writing his peculiarly original poems, one of the first to give cordial recognition and praise was the philosopher Emerson. Charles Sumner, too, gave Whitman, unasked, the warmest commendation, as writer of the grandest dirge upon the lamented Lincoln ever composed. We have evidence, as well, that our New Jersey poet is a profound thinker upon religious and moral themes. One of his very latest compositions is a lecture upon Elias Hicks, one the great lights of modern Quakerism. But to hear some ignorant fellows talk about Walt Whitman, one would think him a nasty and eccentric old lunatic; instead of the quiet gentleman and the poet and thinker that he is.


WALT WHITMAN.—Dr. Bucke writes thus to the Phila. Press of late date:

"Your report in to-day's paper of Colonel Ingersoll's Tuesday evening lecture, on "What Shall I Do to be Saved?" is interspersed every second or third paragraph with "Amen from Walt Whitman," the poet's name appearing in this manner in the long report and introduction some eight or ten times. It was at my invitation that Mr. Whitman went to the lecture, and I sat at his side throughout its delivery. He neither uttered the "Amen" which the reporter puts so often in his mouth, nor once made any sign whatever, either by voice or hand, of approval or disapproval, but maintained his usual undemonstrative manner throughout. The "Amens" were uttered by a person immediately to the left of Mr. Whitman; the mistake was therefore a natural one.

While I am about it, would you give me room to correct "The Genesis of Walt Whitman" in Appleton's Journal—not the malignance and falsehood of the whole article, but a small specimen brick. The Journal speaks of Walt Whitman as habitually wearing, while living in New York, a red flannel shirt, a blouse and a tarpaulin hat. It doesn't seem to me to matter if he did; but the fact is, he never in his life donned either of those articles. Whitman always dressed about the same as he does now.

Another: Not long since the Inquirer of this city published a lengthy article on cremation, giving interviews with prominent men and their views on the subject—among the rest a long string purporting to come from Walt Whitman. A day or two after the poet received a letter from the author of the article, saying that as he had been pressed for time he had taken the liberty to manufacture and print a set of opinions for Walt Whitman without consulting him—and hoped to be excused!

Then one more: I am informed that an elderly, full-bearded, gray haired artist has for years been frequenting the barrooms and hotels of this city, his chums introducing him to strangers as "Walt Whitman," he being always ready to take a drink in that character!

You might say that such mistakes and "roasts" are not very important, and, at all events, get rectified in time. But they don't—not by any means—always; they often make so-called history. Walt Whitman himself laughs at them as merely amusing, but they are very painful to his friends, who are more in number and warmer than perhaps is generally suspected, and, as one of these, I write you this letter, which I hope you will have the kindness to insert."


In justice to the Phila. Inquirer, we must state that this excellent newspaper had nothing to do with getting up the bogus interview with Walt Whitman recently about "Cremation" (mentioned elsewhere) except that with other matter it was purchased from the reporter and printed upon faith. The intemperate scribbler who got up, "out of his own head," the so-called interview, had become a slave of rum, and was fast sinking from an honored position on the reportorial staff of the newspaper. Since the hoax was printed this reporter has died from effects of his dissipation.


1. William Taylor was the editor of the Woodstown (N.J.) Constitution (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

2. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

3. James G. Blaine (1830–1893) was a Republican presidential candidate in the 1880 election. James A. Garfield eventually won the party's nomination during the 1880 Republican convention in Chicago and named Blaine Secretary of State after taking office in 1881. [back]

4. Roscoe Conkling (1829–1888) was a Republican New York senator from 1867 to 1881. He was a fierce supporter of President Ulysses S. Grant and strongly opposed James G. Blaine's potential nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1880 presidential election. He was greatly displeased with Blaine's eventual promotion to Secretary of State under President Garfield. This created a rift between Conkling and Garfield which ended in Conkling's resignation from the Senate. [back]

5. 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]

6. Adam Bede was the first novel by British writer George Eliot (1819–1880), published in 1859. Impressions of Theophrastus Such was her final published work of fiction, released in 1879. [back]


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