Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Benjamin Gurney to Walt Whitman, 3 August 1878

Date: August 3, 1878

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00436

Source: T. E. Hanley Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. 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: Stefan Schöberlein, Kirsten Clawson, Nima Najafi Kianfar, and Nicole Gray

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Sarony Portraits
37 Union Square,
New York1
Aug 3 18782

Walt Whitman Esq
Dear Sir—

Mr Sarony3 desires me to acknowledge the receipt of the books, with thanks—and if I may impose on your generosity I should be please to have a lett for my wife—

Very truly yours
Benj Gurney


1. Whitman crossed this letter out and composed a draft letter on the back. See the draft letter from Whitman to Alfred Lord Tennyson of August 9, 1878[back]

2. Benjamin Gurney (1833–1899) was the son of Jeremiah Gurney (1812–1886), one of the founding figures of American photography. Together, they ran the Gurney & Son photographic studio in New York and took several pictures of Whitman in the early 1870s (see John Rietz, "Another Whitman Photograph: The Gurney and Rockwood Sessions Reconsidered," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 [Summer 1991] 24–25). After the end of the firm in 1874 and with Jeremiah in Europe, Benjamin Gurney seemed to have started working for his former competitor, Napoleon Sarony. For more on Gurney & Son, see Christian A. Peterson, Chaining the Sun: Portraits by Jeremiah Gurney (Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2000). [back]

3. Napoleon Sarony (1821–1896) was an eccentric lithographer and photographer who took at least nine pictures of the grey-bearded Whitman in 1878. Besides Whitman, Sarony's clients included well-known literary figures like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. One of the trailblazers of modern celebrity culture, Sarony invited public figures to sit for him and be included in his catalogues. Whitman enjoyed the experience, writing Harry Stafford that he "had a real pleasant time" and calling the studio a "great photographic establishment" (see his letter to Stafford of July 6–7, 1878). For more on Sarony, see Ed Folsom, "Nineteenth-century Visual Culture," A Companion to Walt Whitman, ed. Donald D. Kummings (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2009), 272–288. [back]


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