Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Benton H. Wilson, [12 April 1867]

Date: April 12, 1867

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:323–324. 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.01562

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




[April 12, 1867]1

Dear boy,2

Your letter has come to hand. According to request, I send you immediately a few hurr[ied] lines in response. My dear loving boy, I wish things were situated so you could be with me, & we could be together for a while, where we could enjoy each others society & sweet friendship & you could talk freely. I am sure it would do you good, & it would be a great pleasure to me. But we must take things as they are. I have thought over some passages in the letter, but will not at present say much to you on the subject, in writing. One or two things I will say briefly at present—One is, that it is every way the best & most natural condition for a young man to be married, having a companion, a good & affectionate wife—& another is, that contentment with one's situation in life does not depend half so much on what that situation is, as on the mood & spirit in which one accepts the situation & makes the best of it.

But these are bits of cold wisdom. I must put something to you better than that in my letter. So I will cheer my boy [&] tell you again, Benton, that I love you dearly, & always keep you in mind, though we are separated by hundreds of miles. Remember this, dearest comrade, when things are cloudy with you, for it is true—& such thoughts are often a balm & comfort to the mind.

Write to me often as you can. Don't mind because we are separated now, as things are. We will meet one day, I have no doubt. Try to keep up the same brave heart in the affairs of peace, that I know you did when you were a soldier. A young man's life is a battle any how. Noble—thrice noble is he who steadily carries throughout the march, through defeat or whatever happens, a gay, unconquered spirit.


Notes:

1. Draft letter. [back]

2. The friendship of Walt Whitman with this former soldier can be reconstructed from Wilson's letters in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. On July 18, 1869, Wilson recalled his confinement in Armory Square Hospital (as mentioned in Whitman's November 8–9, 1863 letter to Lewis K. Brown), "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 Walt Whitman was a poet. On January 27, 1867, he informed Walt 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." Walt Whitman replied (lost), and sent The Good Gray Poet, which Wilson acknowledged in his February 3, 1867 letter. On April 7, 1867, after he informed Walt 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." In his April 21, 1867 letter, Wilson acknowledged Walt 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." In his September 15, 1867 letter, Wilson wondered why Walt Whitman had not replied. See also Walt Whitman's April 15, 1870 letter to Benton H. Wilson. [back]


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