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Whitman at a Philadelphia club

(WHITMAN, WALT.). The Penn Club requests the honour of your company at a reception to be given to Mr. Walt Whitman …

Philadelphia, March 27, [1880]

Printed engraved invitation. Dated 1880 in the upper right in manuscript (in a hand closely resembling Longfellow’s).

This is a rare invitation to an event held in Whitman’s honor at the prestigious private Penn Club in Philadelphia. Whitman, who wore a shabby coat festooned with dozens of pins, did not disappoint the curious.

An unimpressed member of the club recalled the event: “Once while I was active in the management of the Penn Club in Philadelphia, an institution at the corner of Eighth and Locust streets, started by my friend Wharton Barker, and which has entertained many distinguished persons, we concluded to give a reception to the ‘good grey poet.’ The gentlemen of the city were there, all in their evening dress. Whitman came over from Camden in a rough gray suit intended for the street and considerably the worse for wear. This was permissible if due to necessity or even to his own convenience. A large-framed, muscular man, he wore a long, heavy beard and gave the indication of brawn and vigor. Before coming he had industriously inserted forty or fifty pins in the lapel of his coat and they shone forth conspicuously. This, of course, was pure affectation, throwing doubt on the suit and giving the appearance of humbuggery to the whole performance. It has ever seemed to me that this element ran through all of his so-called poetry. There is much filth and wastage in the world, but nature soon covers it up and conceals it from view. To give it undue prominence is, therefore, to be unnatural and in effect is much like the ostentatious array of pins. Even decent people have at times occasion to make use of a jordan, but they put it under the bed where the drapery hides it from sight. Poets like Whitman and novelists like Emile Zola and Thomas Hardy insist on putting it on the parlor table, and they call this offense realism.” (S. W. Pennypacker, Autobiography of a Pennsylvanian).

Very rare. We have not located another example.