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Walt Whitman to Wallace Wood, 3 March 1891


Y'rs, & the third kind solicitation, rec'd; to wh' I hurriedly respond.1 The answer to such questions ought to be the thoughts and results of a life time & w'd need a big volume. Seems to me, indeed, the whole varied machinery, intellect, & even emotion, of the civilized universe, these years, are working toward the answer. (My own books, poems & prose, have been a direct & indirect attempt at contribution.) No doubt what will be sent you will be salutary & valuable, & all fit in. Though the constituents of "perfect manhood" are much the same all lands & times, they will always be shifted & graduated a good deal by conditions, and especially by the United States. Then I sh'd say, with emphasis, we c'd not have (all things consider'd) any better chances than mainly exist in these States to-day—common education, general inquiry, freedom, the press, Christianity, travel, &c. &c. But perhaps I may vary and help by growling a little as follows: For one thing out of many, the tendency in this Commonwealth seems to favor & call for & breed specially smart men. To describe it (for reasons) extra sharply I sh'd say we New Worlders are in danger of turning out the trickiest, slyest, cutest, most cheating people that ever lived. Those qualities are getting radically in our business, politics, literature, manners, and filtering in our essential character. All the great cities exhibit them—probably New York most of all. They taint the splendid & healthy American qualities, & had better be well understood like a threatening danger, & well confronted & provided against.

Walt Whitman

in setting this up follow copy in abbreviations, short &'s & spelling & punctuation

 loc_vm.01547_large.jpg For Dr Wood 500.00 rendered 60 Statement for "'Ideals of Life'"

Wallace Wood (1858–1916) was a scholar and scientific writer, who was the Samuel F. Morse chair of art at New York University. Wood was the author of several books, including Twenty Styles of Architecture (1881) and A New Method in Brain Study (1899). In 1892, he edited Ideals of Life. Human Perfection. How to Attain It., an "anthropological and ethical symposium," that collected pieces by prominent artists, scientists, and celebrities. Wood's introduction to the symposium claims that many of the contributions have "appeared in the New York Herald" (page 6), and he solicited the poet's participation in this symposium. Whitman's response, "The Civilized World Working Toward the Answer: The Democratic Poet," appeared in Ideals of Life, 389–390, followed by a biographical sketch, excerpts of his poetry, and excerpts of interviews with the poet (391–394). For more information, see Wood's obituary in the New York Herald (December 17, 1916), 8, and see also his introduction to Ideals of Life (New York: E. B. Treat, 1892), 5–10.


  • 1. Wood, of the New York Herald, wrote to Walt Whitman on February 2, 1891 and again on March 15, 1891 (the latter may be misdated in view of the date of Whitman's reply), asking him to "say a word or two" for the Herald's Symposium on "the anthropological and ethical question of the 'Perfect Man'—or, What are the cardinal points to be insisted upon for the all around development of the coming American?" Apparently Whitman's reply did not appear in the Herald, but was included in Wood's Ideals of Life. Human Perfection. How to Attain It. A Symposium on the Coming Man (1892), 389–390. See William White's article in The American Book Collector, XI (May, 1961), 30–31, where Wood's second letter is reprinted. [back]
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