Selected Criticism

Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (Frank) (1831–1917)
Walker, Linda K.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

An 1855 Harvard graduate, Frank Sanborn—unreliable biographer of Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and Bronson Alcott—boarded with the Thoreaus for several years while he taught school in Concord, Massachusetts. An active supporter of John Brown, Sanborn was the person who introduced Brown to Thoreau and one of the Secret Six who conspired to help Brown by acquiring money and arms for Brown's violent antislavery activities in Kansas and at Harper's Ferry.

Sanborn first encountered Walt Whitman on 4 April 1860 in a courtroom in Boston, where Sanborn had been brought (after a foiled arrest attempt in Concord, Massachusetts) to testify as to his involvement with John Brown's 16 October 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry; Sanborn looked out over the packed courtroom and saw, sitting at the rear of the courtroom, Walt Whitman, who had come to Boston to supervise the printing of the third edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman would later say that he came to make sure that, if Sanborn were convicted, he—Whitman—might take part in an attempt to free him. Sanborn was not convicted. (See Jeffrey Rossbach's excellent documentation of this complex sequence of events in Ambivalent Conspirators.)

In his poem "Year of Meteors (1859–60)," Whitman devoted a few lines to John Brown, who had been executed in 1859. Years later, Sanborn corresponded with Whitman, gave a favorable review of Whitman's Drum-Taps, became editor of the Springfield Republican, and in 1881 took Whitman to his own home in Concord where he hosted the poet. Whitman once told Horace Traubel, "I always hold Sanborn, Frank Sanborn, to be a true friend—to stand with those who wish me well" (Traubel 285).


Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Rossbach, Jeffrey. Ambivalent Conspirators: John Brown, The Secret Six, and a Theory of Slave Violence. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1982.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 1. 1906. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.