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Moncure D. Conway to Walt Whitman, 13 September 1871

 loc.01323.001_large.jpg My dear Whitman,

I have been voyaging amid the Hebrides,—strolling amid the Highlands,—loafing by the Sea,—trying to extract from two or three weeks' vacation some vigour and virtue for my work, which in these last years grows heavy. On returning I found your munificence to be as of old. The three volumes, and the photographs were most welcome. A third photograph was sent to me by Sharman.2 (If you see him tell him that his accompanying letter got lost in my absence or it shd​ have been answered.)

About the same time that I received your volumes I got a letter from Kate Hillard,3 (a brilliant girl and writer of Brooklyn who was here last year) written  loc.01323.002_large.jpg  loc.01323.003_large.jpg  loc.01323.004_large.jpg from the Adirondacks. She says:—"I have made a discovery since I have been here, and that is, that I never half appreciated Walt Whitman's poetry till now, much as I fancied I enjoyed it. To me he is the only poet fit to be read in the mountains, the only one who can reach and level their lift, to use his own words, to pass and continue beyond. The others seem more or less paltry and insufficient, except Shakespeare,4 and he seems almost too courtly. But Walt Whitman exactly accords with the ruggedness and tenderness of the mountains, and seems in some way more their fellow. At any rate he so affects me, and what other thing can we know?"


2d sheet.

I copy this for you as it is in a way what the mountains said about you to the girl.

As you may judge, the criticism in the Westminster Review5 seemed to me valuable on account of its stand-point and main principles. The Hon​ Roden Noel6 (one of the Lord Byron7 blood, and author of a pleasing volume of Poems) submitted to me recently a very long and careful review of your work, which begins with a charmingly incisive analysis of the Saturday Reviews8 criticism. The Essay of Noel will probably appear in the new Oxonian magazine "The Dark Blue."9 I shall take care to send it to you.

What is this I hear of your coming over here? Is it to be so?—& if so, when? and for how long? When you arrive—if that  loc.01323.006_large.jpg  loc.01323.007_large.jpg  loc.01323.008_large.jpg good fortune await us—you must (letting me know beforehand the Ship by which you sail from America) come straight to my house, where you will find a small room but a large welcome. I hear that Tennyson10 has written to you, and should be very glad to know what he said.

Let me hear from you so soon as you find it convenient.

Ever your friend M D Conway  loc.01325.001_large.jpg M.D. Conway Sep 13, '71. see notes Nov 16 1888  loc.01325.002_large.jpg

Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, Esq | Washington | D.C. | America. It is postmarked: London-W | 5 | SE13 | 71; [] | 71; Ne[] | 25 | Paid all; Carrier | Sep | 25 | 7PM. [back]
  • 2. This is possibly Reverend William Sharman, whose address was listed in Whitman's address book (Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 2:840). [back]
  • 3. Katharine Hillard (1839–1915) was the translator of Dante's Banquet (1889) and the editor of An Abridgment by Katharine Hillard of the Secret Doctrine: A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1907). A Brooklyn resident, she was a friend of Abby Price (see Whitman's September 9, 1873, letter to Price); in fact, according to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter to Helen Price on November 26, 1872, the Prices expected that Arthur Price and Katharine Hillard would marry (Pierpont Morgan Library). Whitman had known Hillard's writings since 1871 and mentioned her in his June 23, 1873, letter to Charles Eldridge. Hillard and Whitman first met in person on February 28, 1876, and Whitman sent her a copy of Leaves of Grass on July 27, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 4. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English poet and playwright and is widely considered the world's greatest dramatist. He was the author of numerous plays, sonnets, and narrative poems. [back]
  • 5. The Westminster Review had been published in London at least since the 1820s. A favorable anonymous review in 1871 sent Whitman inquiring after its writer; Rossetti indicated it was Edward Dowden. (For this review, see "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.") [back]
  • 6. Roden Noel (1834–1894) was an English poet. Noel came from an aristocratic English family, and in his youth developed socialist sympathies. He was a close friend of the poet and influential critic Robert Buchanan, and it may have been through Buchanan that Noel first encountered Leaves of Grass in 1871 (the same year that he first wrote to Whitman). In 1871, Noel published an essay entitled "A Study of Walt Whitman" in The Dark Blue (Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1934], 147–149). [back]
  • 7. George Gordon Byron (1788–1824), often referred to simply as "Lord Byron," was an English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement. He is famous for his poems, including "She Walks in Beauty," "When We Two Parted," and "So, we'll go no more a-roving," and infamous for his scandalous affairs and celebrity status. [back]
  • 8. The London Saturday Review did ridicule Leaves of Grass on March 15, 1856, saying, "If the Leaves of Grass should come into anybody's possession, our advice is to throw them instantly into the fire." It later described the 1860 Leaves of Grass as "a book evidently intended to lie on the tables of the wealthy," and quipped that "No poor man could afford it, and it is too bulky for its possessor to get it into his pocket or to hide it away in a corner" (Saturday Review 10 [ July 7, 1860], 19). However, on September 21, 1867, the Review published a review of American poets, "Some American Verse," which exempts Whitman from the otherwise "feeble, commonplace, and pretty" school of American poetry (Saturday Review 24 [September 21, 1867], 383). [back]
  • 9. The Dark Blue was an Oxford magazine published from 1871 to 1873 by John Christian Freund. Though the magazine featured contributions from such figures as A. C. Swinburne, Edward Dowden, and William Michael Rossetti, Dark Blue folded, and Freund fled to the United States to escape creditors. The article in question—Roden Noel's "A Study of Walt Whitman: The Poet of Modern Democracy" (Dark Blue 2 [October 1871], 241–253)—spoke glowingly of Whitman, describing him as "tall, colossal, luxuriant, unpruned, like some giant tree in a primeval forest . . . He springs out of that vast American continent full-charged with all that is special and national in it" (242). [back]
  • 10. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
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