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Charlotte Fiske Bates to Walt Whitman, 19 July 1888

 loc_sf.00066_large.jpg My dear friend

I cannot tell you what joy your message has given me, both as proof of your improvement and your remembrance.1 I had feared that you were too ill to look at flowers or to identify, even in thoughts, those who think of you. With what joyful smiling I thank God that you are better, as I wept loc_sf.00067_large.jpg from my heart, at hearing of your extremity.

In Specimen Days2 I found that an ancestor of yours settled very early in Weymouth, this portion of which where I am now staying was my father's3 native place. I suppose from what I gather, that Whitman's Pond4 takes its name from a branch of your family-tree.

I am hoping some day of late summer or early autumn to see you at Camden. If you should then be able to say a few words yourself loc_sf.00068_large.jpg and hear me talk a little, without exhaustion, the visit would be a satisfaction.

During your illness I have often wished to tell you what I have said both in public and private:—what, in one sense, no other writer of any age, has, in his work, laid so far-reaching and sympathetic a grasp on the heart of the future as you have done. Hundreds of years hence yes, as long as books last, men will feel on reading the Sun-Down Poem5 and others loc_sf.00069_large.jpg of like nature, that your very existence touches theirs: that your vital presence is with them: and, with what comforting confirmation of immortality, will these words meet them:—

"This is no book, Who touches this, touches a  
It is I you hold, and who  
  holds you &c."

God give you his nearness, yes keep you with us in the body's book many a happy year!

Your affectionate friend, Charlotte Fiske Bates.

Charlotte Fiske Bates (1838–1916) was a poet and editor. She published Risks and Other Poems (1879), a collection of around 120 poems, and she edited the Cambridge Book of Poetry and Song (1882). She contributed to numerous magazines and worked as an instructor in English at the Salisbury School for Young Ladies. She later married M. Adolphe Rogé. For more information on Bates, see American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies with over 1,400 Portraits, eds. Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, (New York: Mast. Crowell and Kirkpatrick, 1897), 2: 617–618.


  • 1. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 2. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Bates's father, Hervey Bates (1790–1838), died when she was an infant. He was the son of Levi Bates and Lucy Pratt, and a native of Weymouth, Massachusetts. For more information, see Vital Records of Weymouth, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, Vol. 1, Births (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1910), 28. [back]
  • 4. Whitman's Pond in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is named for Deacon John Whitman (1602–1692) who settled in Weymouth in 1638. John Whitman's father, Abijah Peter Whitman, is Walt Whitman's direct ancestor, through John's brother Zachariah. John Whitman's fourth-great grandchild is American President Abraham Lincoln. See Ezekiel Whitman, Memoir of John Whitman and His Descendants (Portland, Maine: Charles Day and Co., 1832). [back]
  • 5. Whitman's "Sun-Down Poem" was first published in the second edition of Leaves of Grass (1856). The poem was later titled "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." [back]
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