Concord Massachusetts |
10 January 2, 1863
Mr Walt Whitman, of New York, writes me that he is seeking employment in the public service in Washington, & perhaps some application on his part has already been made to yourself. Will you permit me to say that he is known to me as a man of strong original genius, combining, with marked eccentricities, great powers & valuable traits of character: a self-relying large-hearted man, much beloved by his friends; entirely patriotic & benevolent in his theory, tastes, & practice. If his writings are in certain points open to criticism, they show extraordinary power, & are more deeply American, democratic, & in the interest of political liberty, than those of any other poet.
A man of his talents & dispositions will quickly make himself useful, and, if the government has work that he can do, I think it may easily find that it has called to its side more valuable aid than it bargained for.
With entire respect,
Your obedient servant,
R. W. Emerson.
Hon Salmon P. Chase, | Secretary of the Treasury.
The text presented here is derived from Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–77). For a detailed description of discrepancies between this electronic edition and the print source, see our statement of editorial policy.
The manuscript of this letter, dated January 10, 1863, is held in the National Archives.
1. Endorsed: "R. W. Emerson Esq. | Recd Jany 23d | 64." (Back)
2. In this and the letter Emerson wrote to William H. Seward also dated January 10, 1863, Emerson fulfilled Whitman's request when he wrote in a letter from December 29, 1862: "I wish you would write for me something…that I can present, opening my interview with the great man. I wish you to write two copiesput the one in an envelope directed to Mr. Seward, Secretary of Stateand the other in an envelope directed to Mr. Chase, Secretary of the Treasuryand enclose both envelopes in the one I send herewith so that I can use either one or the other." Though he was in Rochester, New York, at the time, Emerson, as he noted in a letter on January 12, 1863, used his Concord address. Ralph Leslie Rusk, in The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 10 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939–95), 5:302-303, hypothetically reconstructs the two letters which he had not seen, and dates them "c. 2?" Whitman, who, despite his appeal to Emerson, was of two minds as far as an official position was concerned, did not immediately use the recommendations (see the letters from February 13, 1863, and March 19–20, 1863). On a wrapper of a copy of the letter to Seward (Charles E. Feinberg Collection), Whitman wrote, "never delivered." John Townsend Trowbridge (see Whitman's letter from December 27, 1863) presumably presented the letter to Chase on December 11, 1863. According to Whitman's account of this interview, Chase "said he considered Leaves of Grass a very bad book, & he did not know how he could possibly bring its author into the government service, especially if he put him in contact with gentlemen employed in the beaureaus" (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896], 156). Chase, however, kept the letter because he wanted an Emerson autograph; see Trowbridge, My Own Story (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), 388. The wrapper with this letter to Chase reads: "Clerkship | Walt Whitman | Applicant | New York: | Recommended by | R. W. Emerson | Recd. Jany 28, 1864." According to an entry in a notebook (The Library of Congress #8), a government employee informed Whitman on June 30, 1862, that, on seeing Leaves of Grass on the table, Chase had asked: "How is it possible you can have this nasty book here?" (Back)