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Walt Whitman to Lavinia E. Ream, 17 July [1871?]

 loc.01710.001.jpg Vinnie Ream, My dear friend,

I would like to call on you, with an acquaintance of mine, John Swinton,2 at about 11 A. M. to morrow, Tuesday.

Walt Whitman  loc.01710.002.jpg

Born in Wisconsin, Lavinia Ellen "Vinnie" Ream (1847–1914) was a sculptor who made a bust from life of Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln's assassination, Ream was commissioned to do a statue of Lincoln for the rotunda in the Capitol. Unveiled in 1871, the marble statue was the first government commission given to a female artist. Reproductions of her sculpture, as well as a portrait by George Caleb Bingham and a bust by Clark Mills, appear in Antiques (November 1976), 1016–1018. During the 1860s, Ream also worked as a clerk in the dead letter office in Washington, D. C. and was one of the first women to be employed in a federal government position.


  • 1. The date of this letter is uncertain; however, July 17th was on a Monday in 1871. [back]
  • 2. Scottish-born John Swinton (1829–1901), a journalist and friend of Karl Marx, became acquainted with Whitman during the Civil War. Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he probably met Whitman. Whitman's correspondence with Swinton began on February 23, 1863. Swinton's enthusiasm for Whitman was unbounded. On September 25, 1868, Swinton wrote: "I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never before read. I could convey no idea to you of how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry." On June 23, 1874, Swinton wrote what the poet termed "almost like a love letter": "It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the 'Leaves of Grass' that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched on depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 10, 1888). He praised Whitman in the New York Herald on April 1, 1876 (reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 36–37). Swinton was in 1874 a candidate of the Industrial Political Party for the mayoralty of New York. From 1875 to 1883, he was with the New York Sun, and for the next four years edited the weekly labor journal, John Swinton's Paper. When this publication folded, he returned to the Sun. See Robert Waters, Career and Conversation of John Swinton (Chicago: C.H. Kerr, 1902), and Meyer Berger, The History of The New York Times, 1851–1951 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 250–251. For more on Swinton, see also Donald Yannella, "Swinton, John (1829–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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