Title: Walt Whitman to Elijah Douglass Fox, 21 November 1863
Date: November 21, 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), 1:186-188. 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.00803
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Tim Jackson, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson
I wrote a few lines about five days ago3 & sent on to Armory Square, but as I have not heard from it I suppose you have gone on to Michigan. I got your letter of Nov 10th,4 & it gave me much comfort. Douglass, I shall return to Washington about the 24th, so when you write direct to care of Major Hapgood, paymaster U S A, Washington D. C.—Dearest comrade, I only write this, lest the one I wrote five days ago may not reach you from the hospital. I am still here at my mother's, & feel as if [I] have had enough of going around New York—enough of amusements, suppers, drinking, & what is called pleasure—Dearest son, it would be more pleasure if we could be together just in quiet, in some plain way of living, with some good employment & reasonable income, where I could have you often with me, than all the dissipations & amusements of this great city—O I hope things may work so that we can yet have each other's society—for I cannot bear the thought of being separated from you—I know I am a great fool about such things, but I tell you the truth, dear son. I do not think one night has passed in New York or Brooklyn when I have been at the theatre or opera or afterward to some supper party or carouse made by the young fellows for me, but what amid the play or the singing, I would perhaps suddenly think of you—& the same at the gayest supper party, of men, where all was fun & noise & laughing & drinking, of a dozen young men, & I among them, I would see your face before me in my thought as I have seen it so often there in Ward G, & my amusement or drink would be all turned to nothing, & I would realize how happy it would be if I could leave all the fun & noise & the crowd & be with you—I don't wish to disparage my dear friends & acquaintances here, there are so many of them & all so good, many so educated, traveled, &c., some so handsome & witty, some rich &c., some among the literary class—many young men—all good—many of them educated & polished, & brilliant in conversation, &c5—& I thought I valued their society & friendship—& I do, for it is worth valuing—But, Douglass, I will tell you the truth, you are so much closer to me than any of them that there is no comparison—there has never passed so much between them & me as we have—besides there is something that takes down all artificial accomplishments, & that is a manly & loving soul—My dearest comrade, I am sitting here writing to you very late at night—I have been reading—it is indeed after 12, & my mother & all the rest have gone to bed two hours ago, & I am here alone writing to you, & I enjoy it too, although it is not much, yet I know it will please you, dear boy—If you get this, you must write & tell me where & how you are. I hope you are quite well, & with your dear wife, for I know you have long wished to be with her, & I wish you to give her my best respects & love too.
Douglass, I haven't written any news, for there is nothing particular I have to write. Well, it is now past midnight, pretty well on to 1 o'clock, & my sheet is most written out—so, my dear darling boy, I must bid you good night, or rather good morning & I hope it may be God's will we shall yet be with each other—but I must indeed bid you good night, my dear loving comrade, & the blessing of God on you by night & day, my darling boy.6
1. Endorsed (by Walt Whitman): "to Elijah Fox | Portage | Kalamazoo Co | Mich | sent Nov 22 '63." Draft Letter. [back]
2. Elijah Douglass Fox was a Union soldier in the Third Infantry Wisconsin. At the time of his enlistment in May 1861, he resided in Buena Vista, Wisconsin. According to the "Notebook: September–October, 1863" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection), Fox was brought to Armory Square Hospital on September 26, 1863; it was here where he met Walt Whitman. He was discharged from the Union army on November 10, 1863, due to disability. [back]
3. This letter is apparently not extant. [back]
4. On November 10, 1863, Fox wrote from Washington: "Dear Father / You will allow me to call you Father wont you. I do not know that I told you that both of my parents were dead but it is true and now, Walt, you will be a second Father to me won't you. for my love for you is hardly less than my love for my natural parent. I have never before met with a man that I could love as I do you. Still there is nothing strange about it for 'to know you is to love you,' and how any person could know you and not love you is a wonder to me." [back]
5. Originally this passage read: "you must not be offended if I say much more of what the world calls educated & polished, & brilliant in conversation, &c, than you, my dear son." [back]
6. When Horace Traubel observed, "That letter to Elijah Fox . . . is better than the gospel according to John for love," Whitman replied: "What [it says] to me is the most important something in the world—something I tried to make clear in another way in Calamus—yes, something, something" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 2:380). On December 9, 1863, when Fox replied to Whitman's letter of November 24 (now lost), he was in Wyoming, Illinois.: "I expect to go into business here with Brother but do not know certain." Fox realized that, like most of the soldiers whom Whitman tended, he too was about to disappoint his friend: "Since coming here I have often thought of what you told me when I said to you I am certain I will come back to Washington. you said to me then that a great many of the boys had said the same but none had returned. I am sorry it is so but after I had thought it over I concluded it would be better for me to go into some business that would be a periminent thing." On hearing of Whitman's illness, Fox wrote, on July 14, 1864: "Oh! I should like to have been with you so I could have nursed you back to health & strength . . . I shall never be able to recompense you for your kind care and the trouble I made you while I was sick in the hospital . . . I am sure no Father could have cared for their own child, better than you did me." [back]