Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Joseph Edgar Chamberlin to Walt Whitman, 5 March 1889

Date: March 5, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00055

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y. The transcription presented here is derived from With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1998), ed. Horace Traubel (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 4:320–321. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

Transcript Office
March 5, 1889.

My dear Poet:

I spent last evening in fighting for you, in reading you, and, in a feeble way, expounding you. I had a little company, comprising the membership of an intelligent reading club ignorant, however, for the most part, of your works—to whom I gave some account of your literary purposes, accompanied with readings from your works. The more melodious passages I had read by sweet-voiced women, and the robust passages by men with good strong voices; and some who came, perhaps, to snicker remained to listen with parted lips. Nevertheless, though the reading passed for a success, we had the stock questions to answer, and the stock objections, to interpose your own strong words against. One man said you had early had your head turned by excessive adulation! I told him that you had had at least enough of the other thing to bring up the balance, and that moreover, adulation would as soon turn the head of Moosilanke,1 my big mountain up north, as yours.

Well, all this is vain to you. Neither you nor the Leaves of Grass are on trial any more. But it occurred to me that you might be willing to know that reading clubs in Massachusetts are reading you and wrangling over you: and I desired to thank you for the word which you sent to us through your friend—I cannot now recall his name2—to whom Rev. Mr. DeLong3 wrote, and who kindly replied. Your cheery "God help 'em!" gave us a breath of you. My friend Baxter4 sent us his copy of your big book5 with notes, one or two, from you, pasted in.

You do not know me, but your friends Baxter, Sloane Kennedy6, Garland7 and Ernest Rhys8 are all very good friends of mine, and we have for a good while celebrated you here and elsewhere.

I send you my heartiest wishes for the prolongation of your noble life in content and in as great a measure of health as possibly can come to you.

Truly yours,
J. E. Chamberlin.

Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (1851–1935) was an American journalist for the Boston Transcript and the Youth's Companion. He wrote about Whitman for his column in the Transcript, which was republished in Nomads and Listeners of Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (Books for Libraries Press, 1937), 128–134.


1. Horace Traubel makes an error in transcribing Chamberlein's handwriting: the mountain is Moosilauke, in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. [back]

2. Chamberlin is referring to Whitman's disciple Horace Traubel (see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, February 28, 1889.). [back]

3. Henry C. DeLong (1838–c. 1916) was a unitarian minister from Medford, MA. For more on DeLong, see George M. Butler, "An Appreciation," Medford Historical Register 19 (January 1916), 18–24. [back]

4. Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [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 [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy 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. Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. 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). [back]

8. 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]


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