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John R. Witcraft to Walt Whitman, 8 March 1888

 uva.00162.002.jpg Mr. Whitman,

The last time I called on you we had a delightful conversation about books. And I would like to repeat this visit, but I know your time is taken up with callers of all kinds—and beside conversation while it may be retained in the memory years afterward is not like a written letter from an author that we can keep and cherish. I have your autograph in both your works but I want you to write me your views on the books a young man should be most familiar with, tell me the authors that have most delighted and instructed you. I have a few books and in them I have a few autograph letters that I preserve by putting carefully in the front, that gives them to my eyes an increased value. Now there are some authors that I cannot get a scrap of, they are dead I know you receive and have received correspondence from Emerson,2 Carlyle3 & Tennyson4—havent you a bit you would spare me from some of these men if it is only a line—as Mark Twain5 says—was writ wis his own hand. I don't mean those letters you cherish and mean to till you die, but I would value them doubly as coming from you—

Yours Respectfully— John R. Witcraft.  uva.00162.001.jpg

Very little is known about John R. Witcraft (1858–1936). He lived in Philadelphia and Camden, and he compiled and published several family genealogies.


  • 1. The verso of this manuscript contains a draft of a poem first published in the New York Herald, March 12, 1888, entitled "The First Dandelion." A note on the bottom of the page states "sent to Herald March 11" indicating the draft was likely composed around the time of publication. [back]
  • 2. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]
  • 4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 5. Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), better know by his pen name, Mark Twain, had attended Whitman's New York lecture in April of 1887. He also contributed to Thomas Donaldson's fund for the purchase of a horse and buggy for Whitman (see Whitman's September 22, 1885 letter [note 4]), as well as to the fund to build Whitman a private cottage (see Whitman's October 7, 1887 letter to Sylvester Baxter). Twain was reported in the Boston Herald of May 24, 1887, to have said: "What we want to do is to make the splendid old soul comfortable" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades [1931], 268). [back]
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