Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Thomas Donaldson, 17 June 1890

Date: June 17, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00481

Source: Harry Ransom Center University of Texas Austin. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:53–54. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Stephanie Blalock

P M June 17 1890

Dear Tom

Nothing special or new with me—I get out an hour or two in wheel chair1 most every day—just rec'd a splendid letter & book ("Prose Poems" tree calf bind'g2) f'm R G Ingersoll3—wonder if you w'd care for the enclosed autograph bit? If not throw it in the waste basket—am anchor'd here yet like a great helpless hulk—Send best love to the dear wife & girl & boy4

Walt Whitman

Thomas Donaldson (1843–1898) was a lawyer from Philadelphia and a friend of Whitman. He introduced Whitman to Bram Stoker and later accompanied Stoker when he visited the poet; he also organized a fund-raising drive to buy Whitman a horse and carriage. He authored a biography of Whitman titled Walt Whitman, the Man (1896). For more information about Donaldson, see Steven Schroeder, "Donaldson, Thomas (1843–1898)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

2. Whitman is referring to the book Prose-Poems and Selections from the Writings and Sayings of Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: C. P. Farrell, 1888). See also John Johnston and J. W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1918), 39. [back]

3. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

4. Mary and Blaine Donaldson (Thomas Donaldson's children) had given Walt Whitman a rocking chair as a Christmas gift in 1884; see Whitman's December 15, 1884, letter to Mary and Blaine Donaldson. [back]


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