Title: Benton H. Wilson to Walt Whitman, 11 November 1865
Date: November 11, 1865
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers, ed. Charley Shively (San Francisco, California: Gay Sunshine Press, 1989), 213-214. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.00611
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Eric Conrad, Kathryn Kruger, and Nick Krauter
Mr. Whitman, Dear Friend,
I1 suppose you will think that I have forgotten you long before this time but I have not, your kindness to me while in the hospital will never be forgotten by me.
I have entirely recovered from my wounds long since and have been at work part of the time and attending commercial school. I have been at work about six weeks, consequently my hand is not in very good condition for writing.
I have been promising myself to write to you ever since I returned home but have failed to keep my promise till now.
I intend to go south in about two months and if I come that way I will stop and see you.
I would like to know what chance I would have to go into business with a few hundred dollars capital. If I can not go into anything there, what do you think of my going further south, say to Savannah.
I want you when you write to tell me just what you think about it.
I do not know as you will be much interested by receiving this letter from me but I would like to hear from you very much. yours with respect.
1. The friendship of Whitman with this former soldier can be reconstructed from Wilson's letters in the Feinberg Collection. On July 18, 1869, Wilson recalled his confinement in Armory Square Hospital (see Whitman's 8-9 November 1863), "when your kind face & pleasant words cheered the soldier Boys & won their hearts. I never shall forget the first time you came in after David & I got there. We Loved you from the first time we spoke to you." In Wilson's first letter, written on November 11, 1865, he began: "I suppose you will think that I have forgotten you long before this time but I have not, your kindness to me while in the hospital will never be forgotten by me." After a lapse in the correspondence, he wrote on December 16, 1866: "I wish if aggreable to yourself to keep up a regular correspondence between us . . . I think it will be of benefit to me morally and perhaps will not be of any detriment to you." In this letter he admitted that he had just discovered that Whitman was a poet. On January 27, 1867, he informed Whitman that he had been reading Leaves of Grass, but complained: "I wrote to you a year and more ago that I was married but did not receive any reply, so I did not know but you was displeased with it"; he concluded the letter: "I remain as ever your | Boy Friend | with Love | Benton H. Wilson." Whitman replied (lost), and sent William D. O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet, which Wilson acknowledged on February 3. On April 7, 1867, after he informed Whitman that his wife had gone to the hospital for her first confinement (the child was to be named Walt Whitman), he complained: "I am poor and am proud of it but I hope to rise by honesty and industry. I am a married man but I am not happy for my disposition is not right. I have got a good Woman and I love her dearly but I seem to lack patience or something. I think I had ought to live alone, but I had not ought to feel so." On April 21, Wilson acknowledged Whitman's reply of April 12: "I do not want you to misunderstand my motives in writing to you of my Situation & feelings as I did in my last letter or else I shall have to be more guarded in my letters to you. I wrote so because you wanted me to write how I was situated, and give you my mind without reserve, and all that I want is your advice and Love, and I do not consider it cold lecture or dry advice. I wish you to write to me just as you feel & express yourself and advise as freely as you wish and will be satisfied." On September 15, Wilson wondered why Whitman had not replied. See also Whitman's letter to Benton H. Wilson from April 15, 1870 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–69], 1:182–184). [back]