Whitman in St. Louis
A newspaper clipping Whitman himself pasted to a leaf of brown wrapping paper, adding numerous holograph additions and corrections. The note affixed to the top of the paper is in Whitman’s hand;the bottom note was writte and signed by Robert Underwood Johnson.
On 10 September 1879 Whitman boarded a train for St. Louis, where his brother Jeff worked as water inspector. The occasion of the visit was an invitation extended to the journalist John Forney to participate in celebrations for the silver anniversary of the Kansas territory. After spending the night in the house of his brother, Whitman’s party moved on to Kansas City and Denver. By 27 September, Whitman was back in St. Louis, where, since he did not feel well, he remained with his brother till January 4, when he boarded the train for Philadelphia. During his stay in St. Louis, he gave several interviews to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He did not care much for the version of the interview published in the Post-Dispatch on 17 October 1879. When editor Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937), who was on the staff of Josiah Holland’s magazine Scribner’s at the time, wrote to Whitman inquiring about a negative remark in the interview pertaining to editors—“fossils” who prevent young authors from being published—Whitman clipped the article, glued it on paper and added his own revisions. The whole document was then sent to Johnson, in the hope he would publish it somewhere. Johnson never did, although he kept Whitman’s palimpsest, had it framed, and even mentioned it in his autobiography.
A closer look at revisions and additions reveals Whitman’s desire to aggrandize his own accomplishments alongside the accomplishment—not all of them recognized by the citizens—of the great nation he represents. The document begins with an entirely new introduction in Whitman’s hand:
Walt Whitman in Str. Louis. talk
Literature, Politics, and the Prairie states.
After a journ travel of some weeks, amid the canons and parks of the Rocky Mountains and over the Great Plains of Kansas in eastern Colorado, the poet Walt Whitman has returned to St. Louis, where he is now temporarily [residing] resides. He likes is much impressed with the whole state of Missouri, and says the time will come when its natural wealth, situation, and advantages will make it a foremost State in member of the Union. ¶A reporter for one of the St. Louis dailies, the Post-Dispatch, called on Mr. Whitman [there], one fine forenoon lately.