Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to James Russell Lowell, 20 January 1860

Date: January 20, 1860

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00342

Source: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia . 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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Walt Whitman.," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Vanessa Steinroetter, Alyssa Olson, and Nicole Gray

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Jan. 20, '60.

Dear Sir,

Mr. House1 inform'd me that you accepted, and would publish, my "Bardic Symbols."2 If so, would you, as soon as convenient, have it put in type, and send me the proof?

About the two lines: (See from my dead lips the ooze exuding
at last!
See the prismatic colors glistening and rolling!)

I have in view, from them, an effect in the piece which I clearly feel, but cannot as clearly define.—Though I should prefer them in, still, as I told Mr. House, I agree that you may omit them, if you decidedly wish to.

Yours &c
Walt Whitman

Portland av. near Myrtle
Brooklyn, N. Y.

American poet James Russell Lowell was editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1857 to 1861. No admirer of Whitman, he evidently printed Whitman's poem at Emerson's suggestion; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967), 238. For other correspondence with the Atlantic Monthly, see Whitman's letters from March 2, 1860 and October 1, 1861. Portia Baker analyzes Whitman's relations with this magazine in American Literature 6 (November 1934): 283–301.


1. Edward Howard House (1836–1901) was music and drama critic of the Boston Courier from 1854 to 1858, and was appointed to the same post on the New York Tribune in 1858. Whitman evidently knew House as early as 1857, for, in his "Autograph Notebook—1857" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection), he pasted a calling card signed by House. During the Civil War, House was a war correspondent for the Tribune. See also Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, May 5, 1867 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:327–329). [back]

2. "Bardic Symbols," later entitled "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life," appeared in the April issue, 445–447, and, without a title, in the third edition of Leaves of Grass, 195–199. The two lines were omitted in the magazine. On March 27, Henry Clapp, Jr., wrote to Whitman: "The papers all over the land have noticed your poem in the Atlantic and have generally pitched into it strong: which I take to be good for you and your new publishers [Thayer & Eldridge], who if they move rapidly and concentrate their forces will make a Napolenic thing of it" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 1:237). See also Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, May 5, 1867 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:327–329). [back]


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