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Sidney Morse to Walt Whitman, 25 December 1887

 loc.03158.001_large.jpg Dear Walt,

This is a fine Xmas morning—cold & clear—the air full of church bells chiming.

You should see my old mother—spry today, gets about without a stick, not bowed, nor over much wrinkled; full of fun and clear headed & able to direct the turkey-stuffing and suet-pudding making as well as ever. She has kept her mentality (as the spiritists used to say) as sound & bright as ever it was. And her memory is remarkable. She calls up the forgotten past and tells us all of our deeds & misdeeds. You bet she was awfully tickled to see me—I found them all  loc.03158.002_large.jpg abed, & had to ring them up. They all came down, my brothers, sister, & the three children, & didn't get back to bed again till past one o clock. They also have a capacious tea pot, & it was well filled. I gave mother your compliments & she sends her kindest to you, & hopes you will take a start someday as she did & walk without cane. She was delighted with the cake the Harned's sent, & with Mrs Davis'2 silk kerchief. She said the "angel food was sadly needed" in her family. And then you should hear her laugh.  loc.03158.003_large.jpg She said she used to say when she was a girl, she hoped she should never get so polite she couldn't laugh, & she believes laughing has kept her alive.

I find my brother a very democratic individual—rather opinionated & too "damn sure" to get on easy with; but he allows two black fellows to sleep in his shop & ekes out their scanty subsistence with a cup of coffee & a "bite," & at Christmas dinner he had up an old lady who lives alone, a sort of counterpart to Aunt Mary. She thought she must do something, so she brought up a "poor man's pudding"  loc.03158.004_large.jpg and we had the toughest job to get away with it, so as not to disturb her.

I am in the midst of the confusion—all the family around & talking, & the cold weather—I wonder if it's so in Camden.

I just write this memoranda to let you know the situation. Perhaps Mrs Davis will care to read it, & accept the old lady's proud thanks. The first my brother said when I showed him the Hicks picture3 was—"He's the man who said the blood of Christ has no more to do with our sins" &c. He thinks it a grand head.

Send me a few words if no more. Hope the day has been a merry one for you all.

truly— Sidney.

Care of Wm. B. Morse.

 loc.03158.005_large.jpg from S H Morse | Richmond | Indiana | Jan, 31 '88  loc.03158.006_large.jpg

Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: RICHMOND IND | JAN 31 | 830PM | 88; CAMDEN. N.J. | FEB | 2 | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Whitman also liked the portrait of the quaker preacher Elias Hicks (by Henry Inman) that he included in November Boughs. To Horace Traubel he later said: "I can see defects; this forehead, for instance, is not quite as it should be; but my general notion of the portrait is a good one: as I often say, I congratulate myself that it's not so damned bad as it might be" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, September 8th, 1888). [back]
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