Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Sidney H. Morse, 24 February 1888

Date: February 24, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: prc.00153

Source: Private Collection. 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: Hannah Beebe, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
Feb: 24 '88—
noon

Yours of 22d1 has come & is welcomed—That must have been a most satisfactory affair at the church—no doubt it will all have to grow & adjust & form itself—but my idea is it is a real thing appropriate & good & with money & a healthy life action in it—a good plan & don't you abandon it—Horace2 was here night before last for an hour or so—of course we talk'd mostly ab't you—Seems to me you had better come back here, & get good & ready & radiate from here—Interior NY State & Canada, are good areas to rummage next summer—But of course you must judge & decide for yourself—Harned's3 hurt is not serious—he is out again I believe tho' I havn't seen him—Dr Bucke4 is still in Florida—will probably be here next week—he enjoys F immensely—Rhys5 is east (Boston)—I get word from Kennedy6—Eakins'7 pict. is ab't finished—it is over in Phila—it is a portrait work of power & realism8 ("a poor old blind despised & dying King"9)—Things with me ab't the same—Mrs. D10 is well—is in the back room working—my canary is singing away as I write. three little boys have just been in to see me11—my respects & love to y'r mother12 & all—tell Henry13 I rec'd his card14—no definite day set for the Fidelity lect: I am waiting for the Hicks bust15


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109.

Notes:

1. See Morse's letter of February 22, 1888[back]

2. 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]

3. Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921) was one of Whitman's literary executors. Harned was a lawyer in Philadelphia and, having married Augusta Anna Traubel (1856–1914), was Horace Traubel's brother-in-law. For more on him, see Dena Mattausch, "Harned, Thomas Biggs (1851–1921)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on his relationship with Whitman, see Thomas Biggs Harned, Memoirs of Thomas B. Harned, Walt Whitman's Friend and Literary Executor, ed. Peter Van Egmond (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1972). [back]

4. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Thomas Eakins (1844–1919) was an American painter. His relationship with Whitman was characterized by deep mutual respect, and he soon became a close friend of the poet. For more on Eakins, see Philip W. Leon, "Eakins, Thomas (1844–1916)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Thomas Eakins' famous oil painting of Whitman was completed in 1888 and is now housed at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. [back]

9. This is a slight misquoting of the first line of the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet "England in 1819." The opening line of the poem reads: "An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King." [back]

10. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. As yet we have no information about these visitors. [back]

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

13. Whitman is referring to Henry Morse, Sidney Morse's sixteen-year-old nephew; see Sidney Morse's letter to Whitman of January 31, 1888[back]

14. This communication has not been located. [back]

15. In March 1888, Morse sent Whitman a plaster cast of his bust of Elias Hicks (1748–1830), the Quaker preacher and abolitionist, about whom Whitman was then writing an essay. See Morse's letters of January 31, 1888, and March 14, 1888. Whitman's essay on Hicks was published that same year in November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). In the early 1880s, Whitman had also written about Hicks for his book Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]


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