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Sidney Lanier to Walt Whitman, 5 May 1878

 loc.03210.001.jpg My dear Sir:

A short time ago while on a visit to New York I happened one evening to find your Leaves Of Grass in Mr. Bayard Taylor's2 library: and taking it with me to my room at the hotel I spent a night of glory and delight upon it How it happened that I had never read this book before . . is a story not worth the telling; but, in sending the enclosed bill to purchase a copy (which please  loc.03210.002.jpg mail to the above address) I cannot resist the temptation to render you also my grateful thanks for such large and substantial thoughts uttered in a time when there are, as you say in another connection, so many "little plentiful mannikins skipping about in collars and tailed coats." Although I entirely disagree with you in all points connected with artistic form, and in so much of the outcome of your doctrine as is involved in those poetic exposures of the person which your pages so unreservedly make, yet I feel  loc.03210.003.jpg sure that I understand you therein, and my dissent in these particulars becomes a very insignificant consideration in the presence of that unbounded delight which I take in the bigness and bravery of all your ways and thoughts. It is not known to me where I can find another modern song at once so large and so naïve: and the time needs to be told few things so much as the absolute personality of the person, the sufficiency of the man's manhood to the man, which you have propounded in such strong and beautiful rhythms. I beg you to count me among  loc.03210.004.jpg your most earnest lovers, and to believe that it would make me very happy to be of the least humble service to you at any time

Sidney Lanier


  • 1. Sidney Lanier (1842–1881) was a Southern poet and musician who fought for the Confederacy and eventually became a professor at Johns Hopkins University. See his May 5, 1878, letter to Whitman. For more information about Lanier, see Lawrence I. Berkove, "Lanier, Sidney (1842–1881)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. Bayard Taylor (1825–1878), translator of Goethe's Faust, journalist, and traveler, sent his "Picture of St. John" to Whitman on November 12, 1866. He commended Whitman's "remarkable powers of expression" and "deep and tender reverence for Man." His letter of December 2, 1866, was even more unreserved in its praise. Later, Taylor's response to Whitman would change dramatically. Taylor used his influence on the New York Tribune to turn it from a supporter of Whitman and his work to a hostile critic. In The Echo Club (2d ed., 1876 154–158, 168–169), Taylor burlesqued Whitman's poetry. William Sloane Kennedy lists him among Whitman's "Bitter and Relentless Foes and Villifiers"; see The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, MA: The Stonecroft Press, 1926), 288. See also the letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of January 1, 1867. [back]
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