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Walt Whitman to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 27 April 1872

My Dear Mr. Tennyson:

This morning's paper has a vague sort of an item about your coming to America, or wanting to come, to view the working of our institutions, etc. Is there anything in it? I hope so, for I want more and more to meet you and be with you. Then I should like to give my explanations and comments of America and her shows, affairs, persons, doings, off-hand, as you witness them, and become puzzled, perhaps, dismayed by them. America is at present a vast seething mass of varied material human and other, of the richest, best, worst, and plentiest kind. Wealthy inventive, no limit to food, land, money, work, opportunity, smart and industrious citizens, but (though real and permanently politically organized by birth and acceptance) without fusion or definite heroic identity in form and purpose or organization, which can only come by native schools of great ideas—religion, poets, literature2—and will surely come, even through the measureless crudity of the States in those fields so far, and to-day.

The lesson of Buckle's books3 on civilization always seemed to me to be that the preceding main basis and continual sine qua non of civilization is the eligibility to, and certainty of boundless products for feeding, clothing, and sheltering everybody, infinite comfort, personal and inter-communication and plenty, with mental and ecclesiastical freedom, and that then all the rest, moral and esthetic, will take care of itself. Well, the United States have secured the requisite bases, and must now proceed to build upon them.4

I send you by same mail with this, a more neatly printed copy of my "Leaves"; also "Dem. Vistas."

Your letter of last fall5 reached me at the time. Have you forgotten that you put a promise in it, to send me your picture when "you could lay hands on a good one?"6

I have been in Brooklyn and New York most of the past winter and current spring, visiting my aged dear mother, near eighty. Am now back here at work. Am well and hearty. I have received two letters from you, July 12 and September 22, of last year. This is the second letter I have written to you.7 My address is: Solicitor's Office, Treasury, Washington, D. C., United States. Write soon, my friend. Don't forget the picture.

Walt Whitman.


  • 1. Edwin Haviland Miller derived his transcription of this letter from Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 224–226; and Emory Holloway, ed., Walt Whitman—Complete Poetry & Selected Prose and Letters (London: Nonesuch Press, 1938), 1006–1007. [back]
  • 2. Here Walt Whitman summarizes one of his major points in Democratic Vistas. [back]
  • 3. Henry Thomas Buckle (1821–1862), English historian and author of The History of Civilization in England (1857, 1861). [back]
  • 4. Whitman copied this paragraph almost verbatim from the preface to As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free (1872), which is dated May 31, 1872; see The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 5:188–189. [back]
  • 5. The missing letter of September 22, 1871, referred to a few lines below. [back]
  • 6. Tennyson sent his picture in May 1872. The envelope of this missing letter was endorsed by Walt Whitman: "(from Tennyson with picture)." The postmark reads: Yarmouth | B | My 23 | (?) 2 | (?) (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library). [back]
  • 7. The first letter is lost; the extant correspondence begins with Tennyson's July 12, 1871 letter to Whitman. [back]
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