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Sidney H. Morse to Walt Whitman, 2 September 1888

 loc.03206.001_large.jpg Dear W—

I was pleased to get your brief word about yourself, even though you report your imprisonment. I am glad you have been able to bring your books1 so near completion. No one could have done it but yourself with the same satisfaction to your friends.

There seems to be a sort of providence in  loc.03206.002_large.jpg one's life who has the courage to peg away, & to wait, when he can't peg. Somehow the pegging gets done at what finally seems to have been the right & opportune moment; & the result abides.

One has no business to be disappointed, or to stay so long—He don't know. The Enquirer cries "stop"—"cant be"—"wait" "get sick—stay sick"—"die"  loc.03206.003_large.jpg "Dont die"—"start up"—"at it now"—"There! See?—How easy? What was your fuming about?"—"Now, a good laugh before you die.—All's well!"

This to the Ideal worker.

The "business man" with possessions vast (won or to be won) has his tribulations, but of another sort.

No such humiliations—and no such victims!

I went yesterday to hear Prof Swing2 preach. If you dont know about him, Horace3 will tell you. He said some bright things. One: "Many promising  loc.03206.004_large.jpg lad goes through Cambridge & Oxford & on through time into oblivion quoting his Greek & Latin. And many a poor unfriended boy rises up out of the gutter where he was born & climbs into the heights of knowledge & wisdom. Verily the Spirit cares for its own." (Or words to this effect). Chicago has better preachers than Boston. There is greater inspiration in their utterances. They seem to be spiritually more awake—alert. Foregleaming, foreseeing! The great, vast bulk of of a city weighs on the senses like a nightmare, but if one doesnt care a button for his fine senses, he can escape into a great liberation of music & spirit.  loc.03206.005_large.jpg "What is your city with its temples & walls? I can tear it all down & build it again in three days," said Jesus.

How the old sense-ridden Jew must have glowered & foamed!

"Why, it would take a hundred years to build the walls alone."

Chicago has been a building for 50 years only. And what a wonderful spread it has made! I like it, I enjoy it. The boulevards stretching miles  loc.03206.006_large.jpg miles white & clean— yea, as far as the eye can reach, make me stop & look up & down there a long time. I dont care much for the great buildings—from the tops of some of them you can almost touch the moon. I like to get on the grip-car & ride through the long tunnel—every now & then a mick with a small electric light. Everybody was saying "Look out for the grip-car or you'll get killed. So many have."

Ha, ha, ha! What cowards  loc.03206.007_large.jpg these people be! Make things, & then get afraid of them.

The Lincoln statue4 is good. The face has a vast deal in it. The figure is Lincolnish. I have seen it now 3 times, & I find a little fault with its eternally standing there before that chair. The chair part is as the critics say, "a bold conception," but whether tis not an infraction of the old Greek admonition, as being "too bold?" I believe on the whole, I would not have put it there—or anywhere. The modeling is strong, but a little too much done. The hair, however, is better than represented in the engraving & on the whole, I know of [illegible]  loc.03206.008_large.jpg other public statue as good.

But on the streets here I find some half dozzen statues (Scott,5 Burns,6 & others) done by some unfamed fellow for $100 each in grey sandstone, that far surpasses it. I find myself always stopped by them with a half defined expectancy that they are going to say something to me. By the way this stone would be just the thing for your bust. Beats marble a hundred per cent.

Well, I should like to see you that I might at least lay aside this scratchy pen, & say & hear you say. But—. I have no studio yet, but am on the look for one, with some encouragement of work. Rent here is way up. Kind remembrances to your faithful housekeeper.7

With wishes and wishes truly Morse

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. Morse is probably referring to November Boughs, which would be published in October 1888 and to Complete Poems & Prose, which would be published in December 1888. [back]
  • 2. David Swing (1830–1894) was a teacher and clergyman who was a controversial and extremely popular preacher in Chicago from the 1860s through the 1880s. Tried by the Presbyterian Church in 1874 on charges of heresy, Swing resigned his church ministry and began preaching in McVicker's Theatre and the Central Music Hall in Chicago. He founded the Central Church, where many of his former parishioners followed him. [back]
  • 3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Morse is referring to Augustus Saint-Gaudens' 1887 bronze statue of a contemplative Lincoln standing in front of a chair. The statue is often called the "Standing Lincoln." It is installed in Lincoln Park in Chicago and is considered by many art critics to be the most important statue of Lincoln completed in the nineteenth century. [back]
  • 5. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was a Scottish statesman, historical novelist, playwright, and poet, best known for Ivanhoe (1820), The Lady of the Lake (1810), and Waverly (1814). For Whitman's view of Scott, see Vickie L. Taft, "Scott, Sir Walter (1771–1832)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Robert Burns (1759–1796) was a Scottish poet and pioneer of the Romantic movement in Great Britain. [back]
  • 7. 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]
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