Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edward Potter to Walt Whitman, 19 June 1886

Date: June 19, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00015

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y. 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 annotation, "POTTER, EDW.," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "see notes Mar 9 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, and Marie Ernster

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Dear Mr. Whitman,

I copy the foregoing from page 709, in the May number of the Contemporary Review in an article: "The Interpretation of Litterature" by Professor Dowden,1 thinking you may not have seen it, and it may give you pleasure to see it. At Venice, a year ago, I met Mr. Symmonds,2 an English author of eminence, who greatly admired your writings and was eager to hear of you. Whenever I hear your works mentioned it is with a frank and outspoken admiration formerly more rare. And though you must hear this now from all sides, still there may be moments when a friendly reiteration of it coming unexpectedly may not be uncheering to you. I think your works are doing good in the world. The revelation which is in the life all around us and in ourselfs is more listened to, more respected. What is true, then, is more respected; what is natural is more respected; less violence is done to nature, or at any rate urged and insisted on as what ought to be done. Happiness is increased, increasing, & is to be probably immeasurably more increased. To have had a share, and so large a share, in this work must be a great happiness & cause of thankfulness for you. Excuse so long a letter. I meant it to be shorter. It calls for no answer. I hope all goes well with you. That you are in fair health and fair spirits, without pains of body or spirit, or cares or anxieties. I remember you always with gratitude & affection—both for your books and yourself.

Sincerely yours,
Edward T. Potter

8. rue de Lisbonne, Paris June 19th/86.

"We can point to no writer who drew early to his side a small band of eminent disciples and at the same time suffered shame and scoffing or total neglect from the crowd, who did not in the end prove a power in literature and gradually win acceptance from the world. Such was Wordsworth's3 position in the opening years of this century; such a little later was Shelley's4 position. Such was Carlyle's5 half a century since, and Mr. Browning's6 at a date more recent. Such also was Mr. Whitman's position until of late, when a considerable7 company has gathered to his side and the voice of opposition has almost fallen silent."

Edward Tuckerman Potter (1831–1904), a native of Schenectady, New York, was a prominent American architect. He is known for designing the Mark Twain House (1871) in Hartford, Connecticut. He married Julia Maria Blatchford (1834–1922), and the couple lived abroad in London and Paris for many years, before Edward's retirement, after which they remained primarily in Newport, Rhode Island.


1. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888, 299). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. William Wordsworth (1770–1850) was one of the major British poets of his time. His Lyrical Ballads (with its terminal poem "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey") are considered to have been foundational for what would be called the "Romantic Age." [back]

4. The English Romantic poet and playwright Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was the author of the well-known poems "Ozymandias" and "Ode to the West Wind." He was married first to Harriet Westbrook Shelley (1795–1816) and later to Mary Godwin Shelley (1797–1895), the author of the novel Frankenstein (1818). [back]

5. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. He wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. His History of Friedrich II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great was published in 1858. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985). For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" (pp. 168–170) and "Carlyle from American Points of View" (170–178) in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1882). [back]

6. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]

7. The rest of this postscript is written at the top of the first page. [back]


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