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Amos Bronson Alcott to Walt Whitman, 7 January 1868

 loc_tb.00393.jpg Walt Whitman,

The scope and spirit of your paper on Democracy2 delight and satisfy me beyond all expectation, and I write without compliment or reserve to The Man, The American Columbus, whose  loc_tb.00394.jpg sagacity has thus sounded adventurously the sea of our Social Chaos and anchored his thought securely in soil of the newly discovered Atlantides about which Grecian Plato died Dreaming. Especially have I to thank you for dialing such doughty thrusts into the sides of the British Behemoth3 sending him bottomwards. All you say of the Imperial West is strong and is.

I  loc_tb.00395.jpg talked last evening with Emerson4 about your strong strokes at the thoughtless literature and Godless faith of this East—nothing as yet to show of original type—wholly null and empty of ideas—only Thoreau5 to redeem it from idiocy and fatuity.

That dutiful drill of yours, too, in Humanity during the dread struggle of these  loc_tb.00396.jpg last years gives to your thought a sanction and potency which Universities cannot claim nor confer

Personally A. Bronson Alcott. Walt Whitman

Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888) was an American educator, abolitionist, and father of Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), whose 1868 novel Little Women (loosely based on the Alcott home) secured the financial stability her father had been unable to achieve through his own work as a teacher and transcendentalist. See also The Journals of Bronson Alcott, ed. Odell Shepard (Boston: Little, Brown, 1938), 286–290.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Washington City | D.C. from Mr. Alcott Ans. April 26 '68 ans herewith It is postmarked: CONCORD | JAN | [illegible] | 1868; CARRIER | JAN | [illegible] 6 | 2 DEL. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's essay "Democracy" was first publishied in The Galaxy 4 (December 1867), 919–933. It was later incorporated into Democratic Vistas (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1871). [back]
  • 3. The "British Behemoth" to which Alcott refers is probably Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), a Scottish essayist and writer known for his conservative politics and critiques of progress. On August 18, 1867, Carlyle published an essay titled Shooting Niagara: And After? in the New York Tribune under the editorship of Horace Greeley. In his essay, Carlyle criticized the Reform Act, which extended voting rights in England. The essay to which Alcott refers, Whitman's "Democracy" (which would later appear in Democratic Vistas), was first published in the Galaxy in December 1867 and supported increasing enfranchisement and other democratizing practices. For more on the impetus for Carlyle's and Whitman's essays, see "Democratic Vistas (1871)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) first delivered his "Eloquence" lecture in 1846 and continued to deliver modified versions of the speech for the next twenty years. Included in Society and Solitude (1870), the lecture on man as orator was first published in September 1858 in the Atlantic Monthly [back]
  • 5. In Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and Civil Disobedience (1849), Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) displayed great depth and independence of thought and thus appealed to Alcott. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thoreau, see Susan L. Roberson, "Thoreau, Henry David [1817–1862]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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