[Editorial Note: Walt Whitman had an insatiable curiosity as well as a remarkable openness to experience. It is no surprise, as a result, that he took an interest in spiritualism. What follows is his account of a conversation he held at the home of the Prices, friends of his mother, with John Arnold. Arnold was a Swedenborgian, i.e., a follower of the eighteenth-century Swedish mystic upon whose writings Spiritualists drew heavily. Most Americans first heard of Swedenborg from Ralph Waldo Emerson who held him up as a religious thinker comparable to Jesus or the Buddha.

Edmund Price operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn. His wife, Abby, was an early leader of the woman's rights movement who gave a major address at the 1850 Convention in Worcester. The Prices were, at that time, residents of the utopian community of Hopedale, Massachusetts. Whitman was especially fond of Abby Price and her children. Sarah Tyndale, recipient of this letter, also played a major role at the first national woman's rights convention in Worcester. She had operated a successful pottery business in Philadelphia. When her son took over the store, Tyndale devoted herself to reform activities, particularly among prostitutes. Andrew Jackson Davis was perhaps the best known spiritualist of the age and author, while in a trance state, of a number of books describing the "harmony" of all things. His "spirit guide" was Swedenborg.]


Selected Letters of Walt Whitman, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990)

To Sarah Tyndale, Brooklyn, June 20, 1857

P. 24: . . . I spent an evening with Mr. Arnold and Mrs. Price lately. Mrs. Price and Helen [her daughter] had been out all day with the sewing machine, at Mr. Beecher's -- either Henry Ward's. Or his father's. They had done a great day's work -- as much, one of the Beecher ladies said, as a semptress [seamstress] could have got through with in six months. Mrs. P. and Helen had engagements for a fortnight ahead, to go out among families and take the sewing machine. What a revolution this little piece of furniture is producing. Isn't it quite an encouragement.

I got into quite a talk with Mr. Arnold about Mrs. [Cora L. V.] Hatch. He says the pervading thought of her speeches is that first exists the spirituality of any thing, and that gives existence to things, the earth, plants, animals, men, women. But that Andrew Jackson Davis puts matter as the subject of his homilies, and the primary source of all results -- I suppose the soul among the rest. Both are quite determined in their theories. Perhaps when they know much more, both of them will be much less determined.