Title: John T. Trowbridge to Walt Whitman, 21 December 1863
Date: December 21, 1863
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: D. Appleton, 1908), 2:109. 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.00876
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Tim Jackson, Vanessa Steinroetter, Heidi Bean, and Elise Cook
December 21, 1863
I1 am here at the bedside of your friend Babbitt2 in the Mason Hospital. I read him your letter; and he wishes me to say to you that he would be glad to answer your letters to him if he was able. He is in about the same condition he has been in for three months. He wishes to go home to his friends in Barre, and could get his discharge, but Dr. Bliss,3 of the Armory Square Hospital, neglects to send on his descriptive list, although the surgeon here has written to him for it. No doubt you can see to having it sent. Mr. Babbitt's father, who has been out with the 53rd, is going out again, and he is anxious to get his son home before he leaves. The descriptive list is the only thing necessary now to procure his discharge. Your friend wishes you to see Dr. Bliss, and write to him what he says about it. I shall come and see him whenever I come to town. What he needs is sympathizing friends around him. He is very lonesome lying here with no Walt Whitman to cheer him up.
I have been to see about getting together a package of books for you, but the booksellers are so busy it will be several days before I can get them packed and sent. Let me hear from you. I write in haste with numb fingers—it is bitter cold here today.
J. T. Trowbridge
1. John Townsend Trowbridge was a novelist, poet, author of juvenile stories, and antislavery reformer. Though Trowbridge became familiar with Whitman's poetry in 1855, he did not meet Whitman until 1860 when the poet was in Boston overseeing the Thayer and Eldridge edition of Leaves of Grass. He again met Whitman in Washington in 1863, when Trowbridge stayed with Secretary Chase in order to gather material for his biography, The Ferry Boy and the Financier (Boston: Walker and Wise, 1864); he described their meetings in My Own Story, with recollections of noted persons (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1903), 360–401. On December 11, Trowbridge had presented to Chase Emerson's letter recommending Whitman; see the January 10, 1863. Though Trowbridge was not an idolator of Whitman, he wrote to O'Connor in 1867: "Every year confirms my earliest impression, that no book has approached the power and greatness of this book, since the Lear and Hamlet of Shakespeare" (Rufus A. Coleman, "Trowbridge and O'Connor," American Literature, 23 [1951–52], 327). For Whitman's high opinion of Trowbridge, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:506. See also Coleman, "Trowbridge and Whitman," Publications of the Modern Language Association of America [PMLA], 63 (1948): 262–273. For several weeks in 1863, Trowbridge stayed with Whitman in Washington, D.C., along with John Burroughs and William D. O'Connor. [back]
2. As Whitman informed Mrs. Curtis in a letter from October 28, 1863, Caleb Babbitt suffered a sun stroke in July and was admitted to Armory Square Hospital. According to the "Hospital Note Book" (Henry E. Huntington Library), Babbitt had been in Mobile, Alabama, earlier. About August 1, 1863, he left Washington on furlough. On August 18, 1863, Caleb's sister, Mary A. Babbitt informed Whitman of Caleb's arrival in Barre, Massachusetts; because of his exhaustion he was unable to write. Mary acknowledged Whitman's letter on September 6, 1863, and wrote that Caleb was "not quite as well as when I wrote you before…he wishes me to tell you to keep writing…for your letters do him more good than a great deal of medicine." On September 18, 1863, at the expiration of his forty-day furlough, Caleb was strong enough to write: "Walt—In your letters you wish me to imagine you talking with me when I read them, well I do, and it does very well to think about, but it is nothing compared with the original." On October 18, 1863, Babbitt was depressed—"dark clouds seem to be lying in my pathway and I can not remove them nor hide them from my mind"—until he mentioned his beloved, Nellie F. Clark, who "has saved me." On October 26, 1863, S. H. Childs wrote for Caleb from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston: "He Is unable to set up & suffers considerable pain In his head." See also Whitman's letters from December 27, 1863, and February 8, 1864. [back]
3. D. Willard Bliss (1825–1889) was a surgeon with the Third Michigan Infantry, and afterward was in charge of Armory Square Hospital. See John Homer Bliss, Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America, from about the year 1550 to 1880 (Boston: John Homer Bliss, 1881), 545. He practiced medicine in Washington after the war; see the letter from Whitman to Hiram Sholes of May 30, 1867. When a pension for Whitman was proposed in the House of Representatives in 1887, Dr. Bliss was quoted: "I am of opinion that no one person who assisted in the hospitals during the war accomplished so much good to the soldiers and for the Government as Mr. Whitman" (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 169). [back]