Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hamlin Garland to Walt Whitman, 20 April 1890

Date: April 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: med.00940

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. The transcription presented here is derived from With Walt Whitman in Camden, ed. Horace Traubel (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982), 6:377–378. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock and Amanda J. Axley

Dear Walt Whitman

I feel like writing at once about something that has delighted me. In talking with Thomas Sergeant Perry1 last night we fell to discussing your work, and to my delight I found him a great and unequivocal admirer of your work. I was pleased beyond measure, for Mr. Perry's opinion on your work is more valuable to me than that of any man in America—with one exception. Mr. Perry is a man of vast learning. He is a historian of literature. He knows the development of all Western literature, he is just finishing a large volume—very radical—on the Greek literature, he has written on German and English literature. His criticisms are based not on personal feelings but upon principles—he looks at any man from the comparative standpoint. He is the leader of that school of thought with us here. So you see this has value—this opinion of his. He has been abroad for some years studying and now is writing on various historical lines. Mr. Howells2 and he were two of my most honored friends.

Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American West. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). On April 19, 1888, Garland, who was a friend of Kennedy's, wrote to the poet for the first time. He was giving a series of lectures entitled "Literature of Democracy" in which he was "trying to analyze certain tendencies of American life somewhat in accordance with the principles you have taught." Garland did not share Kennedy's gloom about Whitman's reception: "I am often astonished at finding so many friends and sympathizers in your work and Cause. In my teaching and lecturing I find no difficulty in getting Converts to the new doctrine and find your poems mainly irresistible in effect. True they do not always agree that they are 'poems' though acknowledge their power and beauty. I do not care what they call them (I say to them) and receive their allegiance just the same."


1. Thomas Sergeant Perry (1845–1928) was an academic and a literary translator and historian. He was educated at Harvard and later became a member of the faculty. During his academic career he tutored in German and served as an English instructor at Harvard, and he taught English literature in Japan. Perry served as the editor of North American Review for a short time, and he was a lifelong friend of the novelist Henry James (1843–1916). Perry married Lilla Cabot (1848–1933), an American Impressionist artist who counted among her mentors the founder of Impressionist painting, French plainter Claude Monet. After several years of living abroad, the Perrys returned to the United States and resided in Boston; they were the parents of three children. [back]

2. William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was an American realist novelist and literary critic, serving the staff of the New York Nation and Harper's Magazine during the mid 1860s. During his tenure as editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1880, he was one of the foremost critics in New York, and used his influence to support American authors like Hamlin Garland, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson. He also brought attention to European authors like Henrik Ibsen, Giovanni Verga, and Leo Tolstoy in particular. Howells was highly skeptical of Whitman's poetry, however, and frequently questioned his literary merit. In an Ashtabula Sentinel review of the 1860 edition Leaves of Grass, Howells wrote, "If he is indeed 'the distinctive poet of America,' then the office of poet is one which must be left hereafter to the shameless and the friendless. for WALT WHITMAN is not a man whom you would like to know." In 1865, Howells would write the first important review of Drum-Taps in the Round Table, demonstrating early signs of his conflicted opinion about Whitman. For more information on Howells, see Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, William Dean Howells: A Writer's Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). [back]


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