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Harry Buxton Forman to Walt Whitman, 7 May 1891

 loc.02102.001_large.jpg My dear Walt Whitman,

At the moment of my departure for Vienna, where I am to assist at the Postal Union Congress,2 your birthday comes to my mind. I may easily be prevented from sending a letter so as to arrive on the right day, and must therefore do my reverence to you a trifle in advance.

This, then, let me do—not in the mere conventional sense in which that collocation of words is used in daily trivial life, but in the literal sense of greeting you  loc.02102.002_large.jpg with a "bowed mind."

Since your protracted illness began it has been with no ordinary "happy returns of the day" interest that those who love and revere you as I do have looked forward year by year to the recurrence of your Day. This year still more than last, last year more than the year before, we have possessed our souls in hope to send you again our messages of affection and grateful solicitude.

On this seventh of May which is the Birthday of Robert Browning,3  loc.02102.003_large.jpg and a high day also to me as the anniversary of the first and only performance of "The Cenci,"4 I send you my heartfelt good wishes for the new year of your life that will be commencing on the 31st of this month.

I look towards the sea and see you sitting calmly over there with your face turned to the light. Be not in haste to climb, dear Walt Whitman. Sit there, still, "calm and supercilious" (your own word​ ), and receive for many years yet the expressions of our love for yourself, our  loc.02102.004_large.jpg respect for your life, and our deep thankfulness for the solid spiritual aid we have received and expect still to receive from the inexhaustible treasury of your Book.

Believe me to be, dear Walt Whitman, Yours in affectionate respect, H. Buxton Forman  loc.02102.005_large.jpg see notes May 22 1891  loc.02102.006_large.jpg

Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker: A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Camden | New Jersey | United States of America. It is postmarked: New York | May | 22; PA[illegible]; C[illegible]en, N.J. | M[illegible] | 22 | 4[illegible] | 1891 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. The Postal Union Congress is the primary meeting of the Universal postal union, where issues related to international postal services are discussed. Among the topics of the 1891 meeting were the rules governing mail carried by steamships. [back]
  • 3. The English poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), known for his dramatic monologues, including "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess," was also the husband of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861). [back]
  • 4. "The Cenci" (1819) is a tragedy in five acts by the British romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The play was given its first performance on May 7, 1886, in the Grand Theatre, Islington, London, by the Shelley Society. [back]
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