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Whitman to his sister on his rare personal stationery

WHITMAN, WALT. Autograph letter signed to his sister [together with] “To the Sun-Set Breeze” Original printer’s proof, signed by Whitman.

Camden, 1890; 29 June 1891

Letter: One page, on bright yellow paper featuring a short typographical note quoting Whitman on Epictetus.

Proof: Broadside (8 1/8 x 6 in.). Original folds.

The two items tipped to larger sheets and bound in a red morocco album by MacDonald N.Y., worn, with a photographic portrait of Whitman and a calligraphic title page.

In this fine, warm letter to his sister, Whitman writes, “Love to you sister dear. The day has got along & I have just time to hurry this off to catch this evng’s mail. Much the same with me— hot wave here again. Am anchor’d here at my window as usual. 2 enc’d.” The latter comment may refer to Whitman’s enclosure of the accompanying broadside (see next item). Several well-known photographs capture Whitman in his final years seated at his window at a table overflowing with his papers.

Whitman wrote this letter on a wonderful sheet of personal stationery he prepared very late in life. The aging Whitman delighted in the lines he printed at the side of this orange-yellow letter sheet:

“The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case, is, a ‘little spark of soul dragging a great lummox of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around’” (from the Boston Evening Transcript, 7 May 1891).

This poignant letter is finely bound with the proof sheet described below.

[Offered with:]

“To the Sun-Set Breeze” Original printer’s proof, signed by Whitman.
First edition of “To the Sun-Set Breeze.” Boldly signed by Whitman. In line 8, Whitman himself has corrected the spelling of the word “elements.” In another variant the correction is made in type. This printing presumably precedes the book and magazine appearances. The poem appeared in the Deathbed Edition of Leaves of Grass (1892).

In this fine late poem Whitman takes up the theme of the accompanying letter to his sister—a warm day at the window: “Ah, whispering, something again, unseen, Where late this heated day thou enterest at my window, door, Thou, laving, tempering all, cool-freshing, gently vitalizing … Art thou not universal concrete’s distillation? Law’s, all Astronomy’s last refinement? Hast thou no soul—Can I not know, identify thee?”

Whitman evidently sent this rare proof sheet broadside to his sister when he sent the letter described above.

A rare survival.

Provenance: Christie’s New York, 14 December 2000, lot 198.