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Sylvester Baxter to Walt Whitman, 6 December 1886

 loc_es.00085.jpg ans'd Dec 8 Pension proposition absolutely Declined My dear friend:

I have been thinking very often of you lately, and wishing that something might be done to lighten life for you. The nation is deeply in your debt for the services you rendered in the war, not to mention its deeper debt to you as a poet which will be appreciated more and more as the years go on. Hon. Henry B. Lovering,1 the Member of Congress from my district, 6th Massachusetts, and influential member of committee on invalid pensions, tells me that you are fully entitled to a pension and that he will be very glad to be loc_es.00086.jpg instrumental in securing it, as he has a high appreciation for you. He would not like to do it, however, without consulting your wishes in the matter, and therefore I write to ask if I may not tell him to go ahead. The act would be purely voluntary on the part of Congress, and not in response to any petition from you.

Some of us, friends of yours here, are proposing to organize, on a broad and simple basis, a Whitman Society, to promote an interest in and study of your works. I believe it may accomplish much good. I have seen Kennedy2 several times lately, and hope his work on you will secure a good publisher. Have also seen Boyle O'Reilly,3 Bartlett,4 Arlo Bates,5 Dr. Wesselhaeft6 and Mrs. Fairchild7, all staunch friends of yours. loc_es.00087.jpganswer'd & sent on at once peremptorily declining, & forbidding the pension application W W

Did you know that we have a town called Whitman in Massachusetts now. It was formerly South Abington, and its name was changed last winter. It is in the Old Colony, the part of the country where your first American ancestors lived. I do not know for whom it was named, but to many it will recall the most eminent member of the family.

In the December number of The Path, a magazine published in New York, is one of a series of articles on "Poetical Occultism."8 This one is devoted to some of your poems and is partly written by me, partly by my friend W. Q. Judge.9 I will have a copy sent you.

Faithfully yours Sylvester Baxter  loc_es.00088.jpgAns'd pension proposition peremptorily declined

Sylvester Baxter (1850–1927) was on the staff of the Boston Herald. Apparently he met Whitman for the first time when the poet delivered his Lincoln address in Boston in April, 1881; see Rufus A. Coleman, "Whitman and Trowbridge," PMLA 63 (1948), 268. Baxter wrote many newspaper columns in praise of Whitman's writings, and in 1886 attempted to obtain a pension for the poet. For more, see Christopher O. Griffin, "Baxter, Sylvester [1850–1927]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. Henry Bacon Lovering (1841–1911) held several political positions at state and federal levels. Lovering represented Massachusetts' sixth district in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1883 and 1887, and was appointed as the United States Marshal for Massachusetts by President Grover Cleveland in 1888. He later served as the United States Pension Agent at Boston between 1894 and 1898. Lovering was involved in efforts to get Whitman a government pension in recognition of his Civil War hospital service. [back]
  • 2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. John Boyle O'Reilly (1844–1890) was a fervent Irish patriot who joined the British Army in order to sabotage it. He was arrested and sentenced to be hanged in 1866. Later the decree was altered, and O'Reilly was sent to Australia, where he escaped on an American whaler in 1869. In 1876 he became the coeditor of the Boston Pilot, a position which he held until his death in 1890. See William G. Schofield, Seek for a Hero: The Story of John Boyle O'Reilly (New York: Kennedy, 1956). For more on O'Reilly, see also the letter from Whitman to James R. Osgood of May 8, 1881. [back]
  • 4. Truman Howe Bartlett (1835–1923), an instructor in modelling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was characterized by William Vaughan Moody as "a magnificent old goat and man of God . . . passing hours with immortal phrases"; see Hermann Hagedorn, Edwin Arlington Robinson (New York: Macmillan, 1938), 254. Bartlett evidently affected the Whitman pose with his open collar and flowing tie. On June 8, 1883, Bartlett informed Whitman that "the cast of your hand I shall soon send to Paris to be cast in bronze." The plaster cast is in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; a bronze cast is at Yale. Probably Whitman met Bartlett at the poet's close friend Colonel John R. Johnston's home on September 1, 1878 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 5. Arlo Bates (1850–1918) was an American author of several novels, poetry collections, and essays on literary criticism. He served as the editor for the Boston Sunday Courier between 1880 and 1893, and afterward was appointed as Professor of English at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [back]
  • 6. William P. Wesselhoeft (1835–1909) was a homeopathic doctor from Pennsylvania and the son of the famous William Wilhelm Wesselhoeft, one of the most prominent proponents of Hahnemannian medicine in the United States. [back]
  • 7. Elizabeth Fairchild was the wife of Colonel Charles Fairchild, the president of a paper company, to whom Whitman sent the Centennial Edition on March 2, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). He mailed her husband a copy of Progress in April, 1881, shortly after his visit to Boston, where he probably met the Fairchilds for the first time (Commonplace Book). [back]
  • 8. "Poetical Occultism: Some Rough Studies of the Occult Leanings of the Poets, III," by "J." and "S.B.," was published in The Path 1 (December 1886), 270–74; it explained how Whitman's work exemplified doctrines of meditation, karma, and reincarnation. [back]
  • 9. William Quan Judge (1851–1896) was an Irish-born lawyer, occultist, and a founding member of the New York Theosophical Society in 1875. Judge was placed in charge of the Society's North American activities when co-founders Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott moved the organization's headquarters to present-day Chennai, India. In 1886, after a brief visit to India with Blavatsky and Olcott, Judge returned to New York and reorganized the Theosophical Society in America with himself as general secretary. He founded two periodicals, The Path and The Theosophical Forum, and authored numerous books and pamphlets, including An Epitome of Theosophy (South Shields, England: J. W. Brown, 1888) and The Ocean of Theosophy (New York: The Path [1893]). For more information, see Boris De Zirkoff, William Quan Judge, 1851–1896: The Life of a Theosophical Pioneer and Some of His Outstanding Articles (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1969). [back]
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