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Joseph B. Marvin to Walt Whitman, 15 December 1874

 loc.03656.001_large.jpg Dear Walt:

My friend Morse1 was much pleased to have your invitation to come, and he intended to do so about this time, but he writes me now that he has unexpectedly been called back to Boston this week.

He means, he says,  loc.03656.002_large.jpg to make a special trip to see you just after New-Years. I hope he will, and that he will come to Washington at the same time.

You said in your last letter you still intended to come to Washington this Winter. So I defer my visit to you. I knew you would not Expect me on the 5th inst​ ,  loc.03656.003_large.jpg as I was to write if I came.

My wife and I Earnestly hope we may see you at our house soon.

All my Thought of late, Walt, is of you, and your great work. I read and re-read your poems, and the "Vistas,"2 and more and more see that I had but a faint comprehension of them before. They surpass every loc.03656.004_large.jpgthing. All other books seem to me weak and unworthy my attention.

I read, Sunday, to my wife, Longfellows3 verses on Sumner,4 in the last Atlantic, and then I read your poem on the Death of Lincoln.5 It was like listening to a weak-voiced girl singing with piano accompanyment​ , and then to an oratorio of the whole Handel Society, with accompanyment​ by [illegible] music hall organ. My wife appreciated the difference greatly. I think I shall have to print the two side by side in my article if I ever write it. The comparison would be very significant. Trouble with me now is that the subject overpowers me. I am in awe—and dare not put pen to paper.

Cordially J. B. Marvin

Joseph B. Marvin, a friend and an admirer of Whitman's poetry, was from 1866 to 1867 the co-editor of the Radical. He was then appointed as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, on behalf of which he took a trip to London in the late fall of 1875. On October 19, 1875, Whitman wrote a letter to William Michael Rossetti to announce a visit from Marvin. Rossetti gave a dinner for Marvin, which was attended by the following "good Whitmanites": Anne Gilchrist; Joseph Knight, editor of the London Sunday Times; Justin McCarthy, a novelist and writer for the London Daily News; Edmund Gosse; and Rossetti's father-in-law, Ford Madox Brown.


  • 1. Samuel H. Morse was the printer of the monthly Boston Radical (1865–1872). [back]
  • 2. Whitman's Democratic Vistas was first published in 1871 in New York by J.S. Redfield. The volume was an eighty-four-page pamphlet based on three essays, "Democracy," "Personalism," and "Orbic Literature," all of which Whitman intended to publish in the Galaxy magazine. Only "Democracy" and "Personalism" appeared in the magazine. For more information on Democratic Vistas, see Arthur Wrobel, "Democratic Vistas [1871]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. In his time, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) was both a highly popular and highly respected American poet. His The Song of Hiawatha, published the same year as Leaves of Grass, enjoyed sales never reached by Whitman's poetry. When Whitman met Longfellow in June 1876, he was unimpressed: "His manners were stately, conventional—all right but all careful . . . he did not branch out or attract" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, May 10, 1888, 130). [back]
  • 4. Marvin refers to Longfellow's poem "Cadenabbia," which appeared in the December, 1874, issue of the Atlantic. [back]
  • 5. Whitman wrote several poems on the death of Lincoln, and it is not fully clear which one is referred to here, though the contrast with Longfellow's poetry suggests that it was likely "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." [back]
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