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Ada H. Spaulding to Walt Whitman, 3 November 1887

 loc_jc.00349_large.jpg Dear "Walt Whitman"—

For years I have owed you a debt. I would not say it in any other way—so I am trying to get others to take from you just as largely. I am writing a paper for one of our Boston Clubs—and it is to be all about you—on your Leaves of Grass. Of course it has all been better said, but I must have my chance just the same.  loc_jc.00350_large.jpg I am defending your Children of Adam.1 All at once it occurs to me: "Why—these were written years ago. He is older now. He may wish he had written differently. In a few years I may not defend them so vehemently. I had better ask him what I shall say." So—this letter goes to trouble you. I want more than I can tell, to go to you, to sit beside you and talk about death and life; I know how birth and the beginning  loc_tb.00638.jpg of birth seem to you now—after these years of illness and years of religious thought—and years of looking into the far future. You may not be able to write—but what can I do? Shall I go on and will you trust me to say that every line, if rightly read, will give help?

Dear Walt Whitman: For years I have wanted to write to you—but knew I had no right to take your minutes and your strength. Now I seem compelled—yet—fear to trouble. Forgive me  loc_tb.00639.jpg if I need not have come even now—and believe me—your grateful friend—and—may I not say lover?

A. H. Spaulding Princeton St. 9. Boston. E.

Ada H. Spaulding (b. 1841), née Pearsons, was a socialite and active member of various reform movements and women's clubs. She served as the President of the Home Club of East Boston and was a member of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. She married Ebenezer Spaulding, an Assistant Surgeon during the Civil War, and, later, a homeopathic physician and surgeon who practiced in Boston. Ada Spaulding read and admired Whitman's poetry, visited the poet, and wrote a number of letters to him in his final years. For more on Spaulding, see Sherry Ceniza, "Women's Letters to Walt Whitman: Some Corrections," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (Winter 1992), 142–147.


  • 1. Originally entitled "Enfans d'Adam" in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, this cluster of poems celebrating sexuality was called "Children of Adam" in 1867 and thereafter. The poems, openly "singing the phallus" and the "mystic deliria," were too bold for their time and often led to trouble for Whitman. His relationship with esteemed writer Ralph Waldo Emerson cooled after he refused Emerson's advice in 1860 to drop the poems; in 1865, he lost his job in the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C., for writing "indecent" poems; and he had to withdraw the 1881 edition of Leaves from publication in Boston when the Society for the Suppression of Vice found it immoral. For more on "Children of Adam" and its reception, see James E. Miller, Jr., " 'Children of Adam' [1860]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998]). [back]
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