Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Eliza Seaman Leggett to Walt Whitman, 19 December 1882

Date: December 19, 1882

Whitman Archive ID: med.00667

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 246–248. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, Elizabeth Lorang, and Marie Ernster

December 19, 1882.

My Dear Friend:

I feel so drawn to send you a Christmas greeting. I hear from Percy1 that you are in better health than you were during the summer. I hope you may constantly improve. I read a medical article once, which said: "If a person has had poor health through middle life and has struggled on so as to reach his sixty-second year, the probability is that he will live through the next twenty years in very comfortable condition." I trust this may prove a truth in your life. I don't know if I think it a fine wish, to hope for length of days for those we love or not, but somehow it seems as though the later days of an earnest soul are the ripest fruit of all the seasons—well-conditioned. So I look upon the life of a person in healthy mind, from the time we call middle age to the years of eighty or more, as the most helpful to humanity and oftenest the most serene and richest to the person himself. So let me wish you a good long life, full of comfort, full of gifts to the world. Did you receive an invitation to the wedding of my daughter, Blanche,2 on the 14th of June last? I said to her: "Choose who you like to come;" and she said: "Oh, I would be so glad to have Walt Whitman! He seems so much like one of our family." I send you her picture,3 that you may think of the child who feels like a sister to you. This was our baby, and she has left her home for one in Chicago. We were never before separated. It is a trial. So often I think of the days of my youth, amid the calm content of Quaker society, so beautiful. The home where often four generations in one family lived, a bit of the farm given to a child at his coming of age, and the marriage of youths scarcely separating families. Until I came to Michigan, thirty years ago, all my surroundings were among Friends, twelve years at Roslyn4 and Friends meeting at Wesbury. Did you ever attend a silent meeting? If not, do go some day to Philadelphia and feel its solemnity. The last I was at was at Race Street. The early hour was silent; then George Truman5 said a few words that seemed to fall like seed in the prepared soil. A cat came into the meeting and took its place beside the speaker. It all seemed right. Everything seemed so harmonious, that the quiet movements of any domestic animal would have created no surprise. Tears came into my children's eyes. After meeting I asked them why? They could not tell, only it was "so sweet, so solemn." I will tell you a story about Percy's mother,6 when she was a little child, seven years old. A baby had been born while she was at school. It was dead. I took it into a quiet room, made it look pretty, and put a few flowers about it. It looked not much different from a doll. I had often wondered if a child had naturally a fear of death, of being alone with the dead. When Minnie came home, I said: "Would you like to look at the pretty baby?" She touched the hand and face and kissed the face, and wanted to hold it in her arms. I laid it in her lap, and said: "Be careful." There was an instinct that forbade her to hold it up, and she did not want to give it up. I said: "Would you like to stay and keep it a while?" "Yes." Then I left her alone and stood outside, thinking she might lift it. In a few minutes she called, and asked me "to take it." I asked, "Why?" "Oh, it was so still, it made her feel so strange! She did not want to be alone, if mamma would stay." Then I wondered if it was the silence, so powerful is it, in its messages. So I feel the silences in the meetings of Friends. I can't tell why, there is a solemnity that finds its way through the soul.

I am my friend with kindest regards,
Yours truly,
Elisa S. Leggett.

Eliza Seaman Leggett (1815–1900) was a suffragist and abolitionist who later founded the Detroit Women's Club. She married Augustus Wright Leggett (1836–1855), and the couple's home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Leggett, who was also the grandmother of the artist Percy Ives, corresponded sporadically with Whitman from 1880 until his death. A number of her letters to him are reprinted in Thomas Donaldson's Walt Whitman: The Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 239–48. For more information on Leggett, see Joann P. Krieg, "Walt Whitman's Long Island Friend: Eliza Seaman Leggett," Long Island Historical Journal 9 (Spring 1997), 223–33.


1. Percy Ives, grandson of Elisa Leggett, was an aspiring artist who made several pencil sketches of Whitman on December 21, 1881. They resulted in the oil painting now in the Feinberg Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On August 11, 1885, Whitman wrote to Percy in answer to a letter now lost. See Charles E. Feinberg, "Percy Ives, Detroit and Walt Whitman," Detroit Historical Society Bulletin 16 (February 1960), 5–8. [back]

2. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

3. This enclosure has not been located. [back]

4. Roslyn, Long Island. Originally known as Hempstead Harbor, the name was changed in 1844 by the Leggett family and a group of neighbors so as to alleviate its confusion with the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead, and Hempstead Branch. Two of these neighbors were the poet William Cullen Bryant and his wife (Krieg, 227). [back]

5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

6. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]


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