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Edmund Clarence Stedman to Walt Whitman, 27 March 1889

 loc_gt.00093.jpg Dear Walt Whitman:

I was profoundly touched, and greatly enriched and honored, by your unexpected gift. From every point of view, I don't see that anything of more worth could be added to the hoard of—1. An American, 2. A book-lover, 3. A devotee of the great, the broad, the original, the imaginative, in poetry and humane literature, 4. Of one whose  loc_gt.00094_large.jpg good fortune it is to be your friend, your contemporary, your appreciative student and reader.

You have indeed done well, in thus bringing together, under one cover & in this striking and unique shape, all your life-work2. There is no book just like this, & there never will be. The personal note is everywhere. Moreover, as a book merely, the most famous bibliophile—with the famous binders & printers, & a mine of wealth, to aid him—could not get up a volume so notable & so sure of ever-growing value. This would be my notion of the volume, as  loc_gt.00095_large.jpg a book, if I knew nothing of its author—of its "only begetter." Moreover, it impresses one as the result of a growth: of something not made, off-hand, but the final outcome of a certain secular evolution.

For the regard, the affection, which convoyed your noble argosy to this my haven,—believe me, my dear & honored old Bard, they are returned to you four-fold.

I have delayed this letter a few days, because it was in my mind to send you a return-gage: a more dimensional, but  loc_gt.00096_large.jpg otherwise inadequate, symbol of our common nationalism & outlook. To-day, then, I forward to you by express the first seven volumes of the "Library of American Literature"3 (the seventh enriched by your own poetry and portrait)—which you will accept, I trust, & which surely will seem of more significance to Walt Whitman than any other gift which I could send him. The succeeding volumes will reach you as they come from the press.—If you live to read them all,—well, I needn't wish you any  loc_gt.00097_large.jpg greater length of years! To edit them, we have served as many years as Jacob served for Rachel, and I fear our practical returns will be as disappointing as he found the gift of Leah.

However,—you of all men will take in, comprehend, the purpose, the meaning, of this long compilation. You will justly  loc_gt.00098_large.jpg estimate its significance, & this quite irrespectively of its literary or artistic qualities. There are masterpieces in it. But it is not a collection of masterpieces: it is something of more moment to you & me. It is America. It is the symbolic, the essential, America from her infancy to the second Century of her grand Republic. It is the diary, the year-book, the Century-book, of her progress from Colonialism to Nationality. All her health &  loc_gt.00099_large.jpg disease are here: her teething, measles, mumps, joy, delirium, nuptials, conflicts, dreams, delusions, her meanness & her nobility. We purposely make the work inclusive—trying to show every facet of this our huge, as yet half-cut, rose-diamond.

So I know that, in turning these pages, from the early "adventure," from the early theology & superstition, from the early heroism & grit, down to  loc_gt.00100_large.jpg the latest moment of our wondrous development,—I know that you will be seeing, in your chamber, what you have so observed & thought upon for years—as you went to & fro, among the people, through the land & under the canopy. In short, I send you an American "cosmorama" for your own room: hoping it may lighten some of the hours of your retirement there, & that it may now & then remind you of its designer.

Nothing better becomes this compilation than the portion covering selections from your  loc_gt.00101_large.jpg own work. Fine as it is, I said to Miss Hutchinson4 that I could readily obtain half-a-dozen counterparts, equally imaginative and noble, from your "Leaves of Grass," etc.—It is my hope that you see, from the manner in which that précis is made up, that I do measurably comprehend your genius & philosophy; that I have understood your purposes in life & in art. A chap was here, 'tother day, who had been visiting you. He reported you  loc_gt.00102_large.jpg as saying that I wouldn't take off my hat to Apollo, if we shd happen to meet. That pleased me immensely, & I "laughed consumedly," as the old Comedies say. Well: there is too much taking off of hats, but I certainly should doff my own to the Sun-God. On the other hand, if it should prove cold in his neighborhood, I should speedily clap it on again.—Nor have I ever essayed serious & prolonged criticism of any man, unless I deemed him worthy of it—i.e. great. For the small-fry, a few passing words & kindly phrases are quite enough. This is my longest letter of the year—rambling enough, but may you have plenty of time to read a thousand such! And so always think of me as one of your most faithful lovers—for such indeed is

Edmund C. Stedman  loc_gt.00103_large.jpg

28th P.S. We are in mourning for John Bright5 to-day. You must read Smalley's letter in to-day's Tribune (28th) on Bright and Whittier etc.6

If you ever write any one, by hand or proxy, it would be a great delight to hear from you some time—& I should specially like to know how the big "Library Amer. Lit" strikes Walt Whitman—of all men the best judge of it. Pray give my kind regards to M. Traubel.7


Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. The letterhead of pages 1, 5, and 9 of Stedman's letter is printed: "A Library of American Literature | Office of | Charles L. Webster & Co., Publishers | Editors | Edmund Clarence Stedman | Ellen Mackay Hutchinson | 3 East 14th Street. Whitman enclosed this letter from Stedman in his April 8, 1889, letter to William Sloane Kennedy, and instructed Kennedy to send the letters to Ellen O'Connor (wife of Whitman's friend and defender William D. O'Connor) after reading them. He also included a note that the O'Connors should then send the letters to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," was published by the poet himself—in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 3. A Library of Great American Literature: From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time was an eleven-volume set compiled and edited by Stedman and Ellen MacKay Hutchinson and released from 1889–1890. [back]
  • 4. Ellen MacKay Hutchinson (1851–1933) was a pioneering woman journalist who worked for the New York Tribune for twenty–five years and coedited A Library of American Literature with Edmund Clarence Stedman (Karin L. Hooks, "Ellen MacKay Hutchinson ([1851]–1933)," Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 30:2 (2013), 369–381. [back]
  • 5. John Bright (1811–1889) was an English statesman and admirer of Lincoln. [back]
  • 6. George W. Smalley(1833–1916), the London correspondent for the New York Tribune known for his reporting on the Battle of Antietam, celebrated Bright's life and political career in the March 28, 1889, issue of the paper. [back]
  • 7. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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