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Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman, 21 July 1855

 loc.02109.001_large.jpg Dear Sir,

I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "Leaves of Grass."1 I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit & wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very  loc.02109.002_large.jpg happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile & stingy nature, as if too much handiwork or too much lymph in the temperament were making our western wits fat & mean. I give you joy of  loc.02109.003_large.jpg your free & brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment, which so delights us, & which large perception only can inspire. I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet  loc.02109.004_large.jpg must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying & encouraging.

I did not know until I, last night, saw  loc.02109.005_large.jpg the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real & available for a Post Office. I wish to see my benefactor, & have felt much like striking my tasks, & visiting New York to pay you my respects.

R. W. Emerson. Mr Walter Whitman.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. Whitman made extensive use of this letter. He had the letter reprinted in the New York Tribune and inserted copies of it into later issues of the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855). He also printed the Emerson letter in the second edition of Leaves of Grass (1856) along with his own lengthy open letter in response. More prominently, Whitman featured both Emerson's name and the endorsement "I greet you at the beginning of a great career" in gold letters on the spine of the volume. For more information on Whitman's use of Emerson's letter, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
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