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George Peyton, Charles E. Burd, and James B. Young to Walt Whitman, 1 August 1871

 loc.02858.001_large.jpg Walt. Whitman Esq. Dear Sir,

Aware of the kindly and generous interest you take in the welfare and progress of the American Institute, the Board of Managers of the 40th National Industrial Exhibition1 have instructed us to solicit of you the honor of a poem on the occasion of its opening, Sept. 7, 1871—with the privilege of furnishing proofs of the same to the Metropolitan Press for publication with the other proceedings.

With profound respect, George Peyton Chas. E. Burd James B. Young Com. on Invitations

We shall be most happy, of course, to pay traveling expenses & entertain you hospitably, and pay $100 in addition, if agreeable to you, so as in some sort to make amends for your trouble.

George Payton, along with Charles Burd and James B. Young, were members of the Board of Managers for the 40th Annual Exhibition of the American Institute that was held on September 7, 1871.


  • 1.

    Whitman accepted this invitation on August 5, 1871, and read what he called his "American Institute piece" (in his September 17,1871 letter to the Roberts Brothers) before the American Institute on September 7, 1871. The poem was published as "After All, Not to Create Only," and was retitled "Song of the Exposition" for its publication in Two Rivulets (1876).

    The newspaper coverage of Walt Whitman's appearance at the American Institute was extensive: the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle published the poet's account on September 7, 1871; the New York Evening Post reprinted the poem, and called Walt Whitman "a good elocutionist." He was also praised in the New York Sun and the Brooklyn Standard; the New York Tribune printed excerpts from the poem on September 8, 1871, and later a devastating parody by Bayard Taylor (reprinted in his Echo Club [2nd ed., 1876], 169–170); the Springfield Republican published the poem on September 9, 1871. In reply to the criticisms of the poem, Walt Whitman prepared the following for submission to an unidentified newspaper: "The N. Y. World's frantic, feeble, fuddled articles on it are curiosities. The Telegram dryly calls it the longest conundrum ever yet given to the public" (Yale). See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, "Thursday, June 14, 1888," 328–329; Emory Holloway, Whitman–An Interpretation in Narrative (1926), American Mercury, 18 (1929), 485–486; and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 433–435.
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