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W. L. Shoemaker to Walt Whitman, 7 July 1886

 loc.03700.001_large.jpg Dear Sir:—

Spending a few weeks in Merchantville, in "the leafy month of June," I took occasion, one bright Sunday morning, to call and pay my respects to you. I had previously, on visiting Philadelphia, two or three times taken the same liberty and enjoyed the same pleasure; once with my friend E. J. Loomis, of the Nautical Almanac Office. For you had yourself, in certain "Messenger Leaves," extended an invitation to persons unknown to you to hail you and exchange a few words with you, if they felt an impulse so to do.

"Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?"

Had I received such a Leaf in Washington, years ago, where I often saw you, I think I should have hailed you and wished you well, even in the public street; for I even then desired to speak to you. I remember that once, taking a stroll over the hills beyond the Anacostia, I gathered a small bunch of wild-flowers, and, on returning home, finding you seated in the same car, I was impelled to offer you the little bouquet—a spontaneous, simple tribute to "the good gray poet"—which you accepted very courteously, with thanks.

On my last visit to you, I was glad to see you so, apparently, much better in health than I had anticipated finding you. Though you expressed yourself as calmly and patiently awaiting the summons to "emigrate" into the great Unknown, I hope that the summons may be deferred for may years to come, and that, daring them, such vigor of mind and body may remain to you as that life be not a burthen.

I promised to send you an epigram which on a certain occurrence in 1882—a proceeding disgraceful to one of These States—my indignation impelled me to pen. I gave a copy of it to your valorous champion, O'Connor,1 but I do not know whether he ever sent it to you.


I have a dim remembrance that I also sent it to Puck, with a clipping from the Evening Star. I do not think, however, that it was ever printed. It may perchance amuse you. At any rate I have promised to let you have it, and you will find it transcribed herein.

I remain, my dear Sir, very truly, your friend, (if you allow me to call you so,) [damage] L. Shoemaker.


On the attempted Suppression of "an American, one of the Roughs, a Kosmos," and "Yawped over the roofs of the world." To the District Attorney for Suffolk County, Mass. 'Tis a most remarkable want of wit, man— The attempt to put down the poet Whitman. An attempt to suppress an attorney were better, Who thinks the free flight of the soul to fetter. Your essay is doomed to ignoble miscarriage. An effort to quell youth, love, courtship, and marriage, Would be quite as wise. Now, by way of variety, Just try it yourself, with you dainty Society;* And if you should fail, an absurder schoo quit, man:— What! chain up winged speech, and bold song, and staunch Whitman? Arrest, if you can, from a bow shot, an arrow, And confine and hold steam in a compass to narrow, Then thought-check, when once it is printed on paper. Far more strong than shot shaft or mere watery vapor, Is thought: and when that has set out on its journey, It ne'er​ can be stopped by a District Attorney.

*The Society for the Suppression of Vice, (a Society no [illegible] quite indispensable in Massachusetts.)

W. L. Shoemaker.

Transcribed for Walt Whitman

July 7,1886


 loc.03700.004_large.jpg WL Shoemaker

William Lukens Shoemaker (1822–1906) was trained as a physician but became a philologist, poet, and translator; one of his poems ("The Sweetheart Bird-Song") was set to music and became a popular ballad in the late 1800s. He visited Whitman in Camden, after which Whitman said that he "liked him," describing him as "an old man—rather past the age of vigor—but discreet, quiet, not obtrusive" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 17, 1888).


  • 1. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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