Skip to main content

Hamlin Garland to Walt Whitman, 10 January 1889

Dear Mr. Whitman:

I have word occasionally from you and it gives me great pleasure to know you are so comfortable. I get a card from Kennedy2 semi-occasionally. He seems to be very busy. I passed a pleasant evening with Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton3 the present week, and we had some considerable talk of you. She is an appreciative admirer of your work and prizes the chat she had with you last year. She writes a literary letter to the Herald each Sunday and gets in a telling touch once in a while on your work. She is a very charming and able woman. Your stalwart supporter. Judge Chamberlain,4 of the Public Library, I see frequently: a very thoughtful and fearlessly outspoken man. He does some valuable historical lecturing and often says some inspiringly good things about our artificiality in poetry and the drama. I wonder if it ever occurred to you that our novel and drama is now slowly changing base, coming round to the "realization of the real." The whole outlook to me is full of hope. I think I see in what our aristocratic friends are pleased to call "vulgarity in fiction and the drama" the sure sign of the native indigenous literature we have waited for. If I should ever get to see you I should take pleasure in enlarging upon this. It forms the staple for a number of my lectures on the literature of Democracy.

Our friend Baxter5 had an extended notice of the Complete Works in the Herald. You saw it, of course.6

Filially yours, Hamlin Garland

Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) was an American novelist and autobiographer, known especially for his works about the hardships of farm life in the American Midwest. For his relationship to Whitman, see Thomas K. Dean, "Garland, Hamlin," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. On January 12, 1889, Whitman wrote to Richard Maurice Bucke indicating that he had just received a letter from Garland. [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. Ellen Louise Chandler Moulton (1835–1908) was an American poet and critic who published several collections of verse and prose, in addition to making regular contributions to the New York Tribune and Boston Herald. Moulton corresponded with Whitman starting in 1876 and visited him in Camden on April 23, 1888; she wrote of their meeting in her article, "Three Very Famous People. Mrs. Cleveland, George W. Childs and Walt Whitman. Words of Washington and Philadelphia. Poet Who Wrote of the Birds on Paumanok's Shore" (Boston Sunday Herald, April 29, 1888, 20). Though she had words of praise for Whitman and his work, Whitman said of her, "I can't endure her effusiveness: I like, respect her: but her dear this and dear that and dear the other thing make me shudder" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, March 1, 1889). [back]
  • 4. Mellen Chamberlain (1821–1900) was the librarian of the Boston Public Library as well as a lawyer and historian. [back]
  • 5. 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). [back]
  • 6. Baxter's review, "Whitman's Complete Works," appeared in the Boston Herald, January 3, 1889, p. 4. He was lavish in his praise for the volume, remarking that this edition is "monumental in our literature." For more on reviews of Whitman's Complete Works, see Kenneth M. Price and Janel Cayer, "'It might be us speaking instead of him!': Individuality, Collaboration, and the Networked Forces Contributing to 'Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 33, no. 2, 2015, pp. 114–124. [back]
Back to top