Skip to main content

Francis Howard Williams to Walt Whitman, 18 March 1889

My dear Friend:

Since our conversation this morning it seems to me that there is a desire to get the weight of your authority to back up certain late works of fiction, which are simply nasty, without being in any sense true.

Inasmuch as your friends have all along been contending that the so-called "nude" passages in Leaves of Grass are simply expressions of eternal truth, and that their purpose is in the direction of a better comprehension of man and of the democratic idea, it would (I think) be a misfortune if you were drawn into a seeming endorsement of a sort of literature with which Leaves of Grass has nothing in common.1

I feel the matter so deeply that I have put my thoughts on paper, and now enclose them.

I am sure you will not think me impertinent in so doing. If I did not so venerate the great truth of Leaves of Grass and so love the author, I should not have dared to write this.

Yours always, F.H. Williams

Francis ("Frank") Howard Williams (1844–1922) was a Philadelphia poet and playwright who wrote several essays on Whitman and two sonnets to the poet (included in his The Flute Player and Other Poems [1896]). He often welcomed Whitman into his home in the 1880s and is frequently mentioned in Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden, where Whitman describes the Williams family home as "a sort of asylum (like old churches, temples) when so many homes were closed against me" (See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, September 18, 1888).


  • 1. See William S. Walsh's March 17, 1889, letter to Whitman. Apparently, Walsh's request for the poet's assessment of the "prevailing tendencies" in current fiction, co-signed with James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, prompted a discussion with Williams about the distinction between mere sensationalism and progressive attitudes toward sex in literature. Traubel records Whitman saying: "No one would more rigidly keep in mind the difference between the simply erotic, the merely lascivious, and what is frank, free, modern, in sexual behaviour, than I would" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 20, 1889). [back]
Back to top