Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch, Before 7 August 1863

Date: Before August 7, 1863

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:123-124. 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.00779

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Tim Jackson, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson



My honest thanks to you, Hugo,1 for your letter posting me up not only about yourself but about my dear boys, Fred, Nat Bloom2—always so welcome to me to hear personally or in any way any & every item about them. Dear friend, the same evening I rec'd your letter, I saw in the New York papers (which get here about 5 every evening) the announcement of Charles Chauncey's death.3 When I went up to my room that night towards 11 I took a seat by the open window in the splendid soft moonlit night, and, there alone by myself, (as is my custom sometimes under such circumstances), I devoted to the dead boy the silent cheerful tribute of an hour or so of floating thought about him, & whatever rose up from the thought of him, & his looks, his handsome face, his hilarious fresh ways, his sunny smile, his voice, his blonde hair, his talk, his caprices—the way he & I first met—how we spoke together impromptu, no introduction—then our easy falling into intimacy—he with his affectionate heart thought so well of me, & I loved him then, & love him now—I thought over our meetings together, our drinks & groups so friendly, our suppers with Fred & Charley Russell4 &c. off by ourselves at some table, at Pfaff's5 off the other end—O how charming those early times, adjusting our friendship, I to the three others, although it needed little adjustment—for I believe we all loved each other more than we supposed—Chauncey was frequently the life & soul of these gatherings—was full of sparkle, & so good, really witty—then for an exception he would have a mood come upon him & right after the outset of our party, he would grow still & cloudy & up & unaccountably depart—but these were seldom—then I got to having occasionally quite a long walk with him, only us two, & then he would talk well & freely about himself, his experiences, feelings, quite confidential, &c. All these I resumed, sitting by myself.

Hugo, that's the way I sat there Wednesday night till after midnight (the pleasant Virginia breeze coming up the Potomac) and certainly without what they call mourning thought of the boy.

Dear Hugo, you speak of your all remembering me and wish to see me, it would be happiness for me to be with you all, at one of your friendly meetings, especially at Fred's room,6 so pleasant, with its effect I remember of pictures, fine color, &c. to have the delight of my dear boys' company & their gayety & electricity, their precious friendship, the talk & laughter, the drinks, me surrounded by you all, (so I will for a moment fancy myself,) tumbled upon by you all, with all sorts of kindness, smothered with you all in your hasty thoughtless, magnificent way, overwhelmed with questions, Walt this, Walt that, & Walt every thing. Ah, if one could float off to New York this afternoon. It is Sunday afternoon now, & perhaps you are at this moment gathered at Fred's or at your house, & having a good time.

I suppose you were at Charles Chauncey's funeral—tell me about it, & all particulars about his death. When you write, tell.7


Notes:

1. See Whitman's letter from March 31, 1863 . Until the date of Chauncey's death is established, this letter cannot be dated precisely. In the absence of this information we have placed it next to the dated letter to Fritsch. [back]

2. For "Fred" Gray and Nathaniel Bloom, see the letter from March 19–20, 1863[back]

3. See the letter from May 5, 1863 . Since at this point Whitman noted in the draft: "reserve for Fred Gray," he probably intended to include the material in another letter. [back]

4. See the letter from May 5, 1863[back]

5. Charles Pfaff had opened—about 1854—a restaurant on Broadway near Bleecker Street which shortly became a famed meeting place for literary and theatrical people. In "Pfaff's privy," as the wits described it, in the late 1850s, Henry Clapp was king and Ada Clare was queen of the bohemians(see "Letter from Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 5 May 1867" and "Letter from Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 15 September 1867," Miller, ed., The Correspondence, 1:327–329 and 338–340). Here Whitman met writers like Howells, Stoddard, and Aldrich, editors like Garrison (see "Letter from Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 15 September 1867," The Correspondence, 1:338–340) and John Swinton (see Whitman's letter from February 23, 1863), and eccentrics like Count Adam Gurowski (see his letter from May 7, 1866). "My own greatest pleasure at Pfaff's was to look on—to see, talk little, absorb," Whitman observed to Horace Traubel (With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 1:417). Here too his nonliterary friends like Fritsch also assembled for their "orgies."For accounts of the Pfaffian days, see William Winter, Old Friends, Being Recollections of Other Days (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1909), 63–106; W. L. Alden, "Some Phases of Literary New York in the Sixties," Putnam's Monthly, 111, (1907–8), 554–558; and Albert Parry, Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America (New York: Covici, Friede, 1933), 3–48.  [back]

6. Gray's father, Dr. John F. Gray, lived at 1 East Twenty-sixth Street. [back]

7. Horace Traubel notes his difficulties in deciphering this draft letter—"it was so criss-crossed and interlined." Whitman could not remember the date: "I think it was in '63—about the same time as the other." When Horace Traubel finished reading this letter aloud, "Walt's eyes were full of tears. He wiped the tears away with the sleeve of his coat. Put on a make-believe chuckle" (With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:388). [back]


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