"I WANT TO CALL SOON & SPEND AN HOUR AT YOUR HOUSE & BRING BACK YOUR BOOKS": ORIGINAL 1883 AUTOGRAPH SIGNED LETTER WRITTEN BY WALT WHITMAN DECLINING AN INVITATION TO A RECEPTION BREAKFAST AND PROMISING TO VISIT HIS FRIEND SOON IN ORDER TO RETURN HIS BOOKS
WHITMAN, Walt. Autograph letter signed. Camden, December 2, 1883. Single cream unlined sheet, measuring 5 by 7-1/2 inches; floated and framed by photographic portrait, entire piece measures 17 by 15 inches. $6000.
Original autograph letter, dated 1883, written entirely in Walt Whitman's hand and signed by him, thanking a friend, Mr. Donaldson, for an invitation to a breakfast reception, but expressing his regrets, and also promising to visit Donaldson at home later and bring back his books, attractively matted and framed with a photographic portrait of Whitman.
The letter, dated, "Camden, Dec 2 '83" and written in Whitman's hand, reads in its entirety: "My dear Donaldson, Thanks for your kind invitation to the reception ^ , to Henry Irving / Clover Club, breakfast but I shall be unable to attend—I want to call soon & sped an hour at your house & bring back your books—Walt Whitman." The letter has been handsomely matted and framed with a half-tone photographic image of Whitman. The recipient, Thomas Donaldson, was a Philadelphia attorney involved in Western and American Indian matters, who first met Whitman while working for the Smithsonian. The pair were frequent correspondents throughout Whitman's later life and the type of informal visit Whitman mentions in this letter would have been characteristic of their relationship. Whitman called Donaldson "'my stout, gentlemanly friend, free talker.' Whitman met Bram Stoker at Donaldson's house in 1884 and visited with Stoker again… when Donaldson accompanied Stoker to the poet's residence in Camden" (Walt Whitman Archive). This letter actually references Whitman's eventual March 1884 meeting with Bram Stoker indirectly, through its mention of Henry Irving, the famous stage actor and the man who inspired Dracula. Indeed, it is Whitman's decision to skip the Clover Club breakfast (incidentally, the only one ever attempted, held at the Bellevue and attended by the 30-odd members of Philadelphia's journalist-heavy Clover Club) that may have allowed him the opportunity to spend time with both Irving and Bram Stoker. The duo had come to America with theater company—Stoker was working as Irving's manager and writing on the side—and, in March, the tour stopped in Philadelphia. Stoker had long been anxious to meet Whitman and regarded him as something of a hero. Irving, upon hearing of Stoker's intentions to slip off for a meeting, decided to accompany him. Irving took advantage of the opportunity: "The poet and actor talked for 'a good while and seemed to take to each other mightily.' Irving ventured that Whitman reminded him of Tennyson, a comparison the poet heartily embraced. For his part, Whitman was struck by Irving's demeanor—'his gentle and unaffected manners and his evident intellectual power and heart' (Meredith Hindley, Humanities). Yet Stoker formed an even closer relationship with Whitman and the two formed a close friendship in the space of a single meeting. Whitman commented to Donaldson about how highly he regarded his visitors. Stoker visited Whitman again with Donaldson two years later and the trio discussed Irving's recent accomplishments on stage, as well as matters of the day such as news about Abraham Lincoln. "Donaldson secured annual ferry passes for Whitman that made it possible for him to range beyond Camden to Philadelphia in spite of his reduced mobility. After the winter of 1884–1885, when Donaldson realized that Whitman had become almost house-bound, he was instrumental in raising money for a horse and buggy with which he surprised him in 1885. He was a pallbearer at Whitman's funeral in 1892" (Walt Whitman Archive).