New York City: April 14, 1887. Ivory card, measuring 2.75 x 3.75 inches, printed recto only: “Walt Whitman / At Home -- Thursday Evening / April 14th 1887 / Westminster Hotel, Irving Place and 16th St., New York.” Penciled bookseller note to verso: “April 14, 1887 for his most famous lecture (Lincoln) / WW in NY for only one (1) night.” Card lightly toned; half-inch closed tear to head, expertly repaired. Housed in envelope fragment with penciled inventory number, bookseller note, and collector’s note: “Whitman card / gift from Capt. Cohn -- / House of Books / Aug 7 1950.”.
Invitation to Walt Whitman’s private reception after his celebrated lecture, “The Death of Abraham Lincoln,” at Madison Square Theatre on April 14, 1887. Whitman had given public readings of his Lincoln lecture, variously edited, since 1879; one version was published in Specimen Days in 1882-1883. Scheduled on the twenty-second anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, the 1887 event was staged as a benefit for the ailing Whitman, who remained seated throughout his sold-out tribute to the Union’s “Martyr Chief”: “there is a cement to the whole people, subtler, more underlying, than any thing in written constitution, or courts or armies – namely, the cement of a death identified thoroughly with that people, at its head, and for its sake.” As William Pannapacker notes, Whitman’s passionate public identification with Lincoln was central to his emergence as “The Good Gray Poet,” a national treasure: “Whitman’s experiments in self-creation finally succeeded with a major segment of the public when he enclosed his persona within the halo encircling the martyred President” (Revised Lives, 22). The New York audience for Whitman’s performance included Mark Twain, John Hay, Augustus St. Gaudens, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton; Andrew Carnegie could not make it, but purchased a box for $350. At the end of his performance, Whitman was surprised by a gift of lilacs from poet E.C. Stedman’s young granddaughter, a reference to his great elegy for Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” In New York City for a single night, Whitman hosted a reception in his rooms at the Westminster Hotel after the lecture; this invitation was printed for the occasion. The evening was an important one for New York literary society, a celebration “at least as spectacular as the event itself,” according to the New York Sun. Looking “like a painting of Jove,” Whitman entertained a constant stream of admirers, relieved only by the performance of the Afro-Cuban violinist Claudio Brindis de Salas Garrido, “El Paganini Negro,” who serenaded Whitman on a seventeenth-century Ruggeri violin: “Walt was mightily pleased with the music.” A surprising survival, a near-fine artifact of the nineteenth-century American literary scene.