Title: James Berry Bensel to Walt Whitman, 3 April 1880
Date: April 3, 1880
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.01085
Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
4: 3: 1880
"Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?"1
Leet this be my apology for speaking to you with my heart laid bare—I tried very hard to secure a copy of your "Leaves", and at last in New York did so, I took the book up and ran my eyes over detached lines uninterestedly because carelessly: at last I came to a poem ("24"—page 242 Thayer & Eldridge edition) that brought me to a stand-still and as I read and reread the lines I felt—I, the conventional young man, or boy, if you will—but it was a "man flushed and full [blooded?] who stood naked, body and soul, before me. I went back to the beginning, I have read and reread carefully, I do not understand you all in all fully, but I recognize the manliness of you, the power you possess, the strength of mind and limb—and, [meter?] of conventional ideas in the lines and feet of conventional poetry as I am. I feel how weak and pitiful physically and mentally I must look to the better, the stronger part of me—my dear sir, I cannot analyze my feelings, had any one told me that my blood would leap, my soul cry out at the poems of a man, as blood and soul and heart spring at some glorious aspect of nature, I should have laughed at him—But I feel while reading you (not your book, but you) as though I were let loose in some grand rugged place where I had never thought to be, and all around teeming with pre Adamite strangeness and majesty—This is just you and myself. I cannot help writing you. I do not know if you will read anything I say, whether my name is a familiar or unfamiliar one to you,—but at least I am and must be hereafter one who "loves you secretly" in his heart, and openly to the world—
At least it must be something to you to have a man say that you have done him good, physically and spiritually good. It cannot be so much a matter of indifference to you that in all gratitude I offer my tender thanks and changed belief and admiration. I have taken "from your lips" the kiss, and with all my heart and soul return it to you. Believe that I shall study you more and more, and if ever the day comes that I may give you the hearty and true hand grasp, and look in your eyes and in your face, even though my own tongue is silent I think you will understand my soul and that I am faithfully your friend
James Berry Bensel
1. According to an 1890 description of James Berry Bensel (1855–1886), a "native of New York city, he was a student in Lynn, Mass., a clerk in Boston, and, following his literary bent, an author and public reader. His life is the pathetic and too familiar story of suffering and unfulfilled promise" (Charles H. Crandall, Representative Sonnets by American Poets, [Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890], 323). Bensel published a volume of poems titled In the King's Garden: And Other Poems (Boston: D. Lothrop and Company, 1885). [back]