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Marilla Minchen to Walt Whitman, 25 June 1884

 loc.03147.001_large.jpg Minchen Dear Walt Whitman,

"That my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever seeing each other, and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as wonderful"1 and that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful, and that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to be true is just as wonderful." Indeed there is very little in Leaves of Grass but what I know to be true. It is some more than two years since I first read your book, and sometimes I have felt so in raport​ with your feelings therein expressed that I have written you dozzens​ of letters, and I have no doubt you would have got them, had they been done on paper, or any material transmittible.​  loc.03147.002_large.jpg I presume I have read "The Open Road" twenty times or more. Last fall I was staying over two months—with Mrs Dr. Severance of Milwaukee.2 I read it to her—and one evening she asked me to read it again, her husband being with us, for she said I read it as tho I understood it. Yes, and how "utterly quelled and defeated" too I have felt to find my strength so much less than my impulses. The poem "To You" has been worth wonders to me, so inclined am I to self reproach. Your "Song of Myself" I have read over and over again. No poems ever gave me so confident a hope in a continued existence. If only "the lover for whom I pine will be there"! How I long to find them here! and do—scattered everywhere, and their very existence makes me long for them. All around me I see "Of each one the core of life, namely happiness, is full of the rotten excrement of maggots," and so in my loneliness when I try to be happy with them all that is true to me  loc.03147.003_large.jpg comes up plainer. The effort seems to be—honestly no doubt—to conceal "our real names".

When I read "You Felons on trial in Courts" The tears flow like rain, and I think how develish​ I have been to day. I feel imprisoned—I am tied here— but ever hopeful of a release. We have large pleasant grounds—and houseroom enough, but the provider and "head of the house" seems ever determined that we shall realize our dependent positions. How easy it is to discover and acknowledge our superiors, but when any person uses a domineering superiority over you, resistence​ seems but natural, and so I hate the one I would gladly love. Hate is to the hater and comes back most to him;

June 26th

In our manner of living we are hygienists but yesterday we had company for dinner and so to be sociable after the manner of Col. Ingersol.3 I drank a cup of coffee. I am a good sleeper naturally but that cup of coffee never lost its hold of me until way after midnight. Leaves  loc.03147.004_large.jpg of Grass laid on my lightstand, and I opened to "Song of the Universe." I read it in a new light. It seemed to me the poetry of SP Andrew's4 late prophetic lecture before Manhattan Liberal Club.

I had already marked next to last verse, Oh! how fast the world moves to me when I read such thoughts, and how slow when I carry them with me among my neighbors. If you have not read S.P.A.'s may I send the paper to you?

With much love and esteem I am Very Truly Yours Mrs. M. B. Minchen. Carroll City, Iowa.

Marilla Jane Bean Minchen (1846–1941) was born in Rock Island, Illinois, the daughter of John Liberty Bean and Marilla J. Smith. In 1869, she married Davenport, Iowa, businessman William T. Minchen, and the couple had three children, John Paul, Abigail Louise, and Florence. The Minchen family lived in Carroll, Iowa. According to Minchen's obituary, she was "one of the first to advocate woman's suffrage" and "always intensely interested in all forward looking movements." The obituary also describes Minchen as "an extensive reader" and a member of the Clio Club, a group that founded the Carroll Public Library in 1894. She died at her daughter Florence's home in San Mateo, California, and is buried in Carroll City Cemetery in Carroll, Iowa. For more information, see her obituary, "Mrs. W. T. Minchen, 95, One of the Earliest Settlers Here, Dies in California," in the Carroll Daily Herald 72.11 (January 14, 1941), 7.


  • 1. Minchen is quoting from Whitman's poem "Who Learns My Lesson Complete." [back]
  • 2. Juliet Hall Worth Stillman Severance (1833–1919) was born in Massachusetts and grew up in New York. She went on to become one of the first women physicians in the United States, and she participated in numerous anti-slavery, dress reform, and dietary reform movements. She was a proponent of women's rights and a leader in Labour organizations and Spirtualist assocations in the Midwest. By the early 1870s, she had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she lived with her children and second husband, Anson Bigelow Severance, a Spiritualist and dancing teacher. [back]
  • 3. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 4. Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812–1886), an abolitionist and philosopher, was absorbed in utopian schemes to establish a universal language, to reconcile all great thought, to discover a science of the universe ("Universology"), and to institute a new social order which he called Pantarchy. Trowbridge related Whitman's adverse opinion of Andrews' schemes in The Independent, 55 (1903): 497–501; note also R. A. Coleman, "Trowbridge and Whitman," PMLA, 63 (1948): 266, and E. C. Stedman's description of the "Pantarchial scheme" in Life and Letters (New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1910), 1:174–175. Ellen M. O'Connor voiced her distaste for Andrews in "Personal Recollections of Walt Whitman," Atlantic Monthly, 99 (1907): 829. [back]
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