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Walt Whitman to David L. Lezinsky, 28 October 1890

 loc_gk.01451_large.jpg Dear Friend DLL

I am here yet much the same as when you saw me—perhaps two or three pegs let lower (from time & age,) but essentially "the same subject continued"—have spells of pretty severe depression & illness & then get back again to condition such as it is—have the grip permanently—I sent from here (4th June last1—also letter to you) some of my big books2 (complete works) by express, directed to you care OK Lerris, Hotel, Butte City Montana. Did you get them? (I rec'd the money safe, & order)—Also rec'd y'r letter f'm Berkley,3 some three months ago, & ans'd it4 wh' I suppose you rec'd—was very ill when y'r letter came & for three weeks on—I send (some mail with this) newspaper report of Robt G. Ingersoll's5 lecture in Phil ab't L of G.6 Have not seen Ed Stead7 the driver lately, but I guess he is all right. Mrs. Davis,8 my housekeeper, is well—She has been off to Kansas & Colorado on a jaunt—Warren Fritzinger9 my nurse is still with me & is well—the forthcoming (Nov.) N A Review10 has a little piece of mine "Old Poets"11—As I write I am sitting here in my big chair with wolf skin on back of it—dark & chilly day—have had buckwheat cakes & coffee for breakfast—

God bless you Walt Whitman  loc_gk.01452_large.jpg

David L. Lezinsky was an 1884 graduate of the University of California, who wrote poetry and visited Whitman on May 13, 1890, while setting out on a trip to California. Whitman wrote letters to him and sent him a copy of his Complete Poems & Prose, but there is minimal information about what his "proposition" to Whitman was, and he remains something of a mystery. Whitman related his impressions of Lezinsky to Horace Traubel, saying of Lezinsky, "The tone of the man—his startling propositions, all confound me. As I understand, he comes from California, must have money, has become possessed of ideas about Walt Whitman. Today he went off to Washington, to be back again in several days. Why, Horace, you have no idea of the exuberance of the man: he talks of buying all my books, of buying a share in the copyrights, paying me several thousand dollars, having me write no more but by consultation with him: a series of surprising stipulations" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, May 13, 1890). See Whitman's letters to Bucke of June 5, 1890 and to Lezinsky of October 28, 1890.


  • 1. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 2. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume 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, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, 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. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 4. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 5. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 6. On October 21, 1890, at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience," and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]
  • 7. Edwin R. Stead of 2226 Jefferson Street, Philadelphia, was Whitman's driver (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). In the Gopsill Philadelphia City Directory for 1890, Stead was listed as a coppersmith. [back]
  • 8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]
  • 10. The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. The journalist Charles Allen Thorndike Rice (1851–1889) edited and published the magazine in New York from 1876 until his death. Whitman's friend James Redpath joined the North American Review as managing editor in 1886. After Rice's death, Lloyd Bryce (1852–1915) became owner and editor. At the time of this letter, William Rideing (1853–1918) was assistant editor of the magazine. [back]
  • 11. On October 3, 1890, William H. Rideing, the assistant editor of the North American Review, requested an article of about "4000 words" on "Recent aspects of American literature" for "the sum of Two hundred dollars" or on "some other subject on which you would be more willing to write." Whitman sent "Old Poets" to the magazine on October 9, returned proof on October 18, and received $75 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
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