Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 7 May 1866

Date: May 7, 1866

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:274-276. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00206

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Brett Barney, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson

May 7, 1866.

Dear brother Jeff,1

By Mother's letter I have heard about the moving & the new quarters—Mother says that she is glad they are no worse, under all the circumstances. I enclose an envelope to mother, with a little money in it. As you see, I am still in the same place, with easy times enough, & a good place as I could expect. The Attorney General2 is absent now in Kentucky. There is not much work. I can't tell whether I shall keep on here, or not. There is nothing at present that looks like a change—I feel quite well this spring—but a clerk's life here is not very interesting—I went down last Thursday to Mt Vernon, 16 miles down the Potomac—I think it is the pleasantest spot & farm I ever saw—went through the house & grounds &c—I was very glad I went—Yesterday we had the funeral here of a man you must have seen mentioned in the papers, old Count Gurowski. I have been very well acquainted with him since I have lived here—he was a strange old man, a great lord in his own country, Poland, owned 30,000 serfs & great estates—an exile for conspiring against the government—he knew every thing & growled & found fault with everybody—but was always very courteous to me, & spoke very highly of me in his book, his "Diary," printed last winter—his funeral was simple but very impressive—all the big radicals were there3

The fight between Congress & the President is still going on—I think the President is rather afraid of going too far against Congress, for Stevens & the rest of 'em are very determined.4

My hospitals are dwindled down to a small force—but there are plenty of cases to occupy me a couple of visits a week—I always go Sunday, & sometimes in the middle of the week—Julius Mason5 is here in barracks yet—Jeff, I wish I could now & then be home & see you all, even if was only a couple of hours—

Give my best respects to Mr. Lane,6 and the Doctor7—I send my love to Mat8 & the little girls.9 Write & tell me all about home affairs, & how George10 is getting along—dear old Mother, as she gets older & older, I think about her every day & night—



1. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833-1890), Walt's brother. [back]

2. Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) was appointed Attorney General on July 23, 1866, and served until March 12, 1868, when he resigned to serve as President Johnson's chief counsel in the impeachment proceedings. When, at the conclusion of the trial, Johnson renominated Stanbery, the Senate refused to confirm him. Failing eyesight—to which Whitman referred in letters from November 13, 1866 and November 20, 1866—forced Stanbery to retire from legal practice in 1878. Speaking to Horace Traubel in 1888, Whitman affirmed his fondness for Stanbery (With Walt Whitman in Camden [Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906–1996], 3:156). [back]

3. Count Adam Gurowski (1805–1866), a Polish exile, published an eccentric three-volume Diary (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1862–1866), a day-by-day account of the war written with a marked partiality toward extreme abolitionists. The Count was a colorful figure: he covered his lost eye with a "green blinder," and "he had a Roman head . . . a powerful topknot, in and out: people always stopped to look at him" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 3:79, 96). O'Connor, who apparently Englished Gurowski's manuscripts (see the letter from Gurowski to O'Connor in Charles E. Feinberg Collection), reported to Whitman, on August 13, 1864, that "he is a madman with lucid intervals"—he had attempted "to discipline the firemen with a pistol" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 3:340). Whitman maintained to Horace Traubel, in 1888, that "he was truly a remarkable, almost phenomenal, man," and that "he was, no doubt, very crazy, but also very sane" (With Walt Whitman in Camden 3:79, 340). Mrs. O'Connor related in a letter on November 24, 1863, that the Count had said to her recently: "My Gott, I did not know that [Walt Whitman] was such a poet, tell him so, I have been trying every where to find him to tell him myself" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). In the last volume of the Diary, Gurowski placed Whitman's name in the first category of his threefold evaluation of persons "mentioned in this volume": "Praise," "Half and Half," and "Blame." The Count referred in his entry for April 18, 1864, to Whitman as among "the most original and genuine American hearts and minds" (187). In a footnote (372–373), appended September 12, 1865, Gurowski abused Harlan, who had "shown himself to be animated by a spirit of narrow-minded persecution which would honor the most fierce Spanish or Roman inquisitor." Gurowski was praised by Robert Penn Warren in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work: The "Paris Review" Interviews (New York: Viking Press, 1958), 189. See also LeRoy Fischer, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 36 (1949–1950), 415–434, and Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 1. [back]

4. Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868), fiery Congressman from Pennsylvania, violently opposed Johnson's moderate policy toward the South. He introduced the impeachment resolution in February, 1868. [back]

5. Probably Julius W. Mason, a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry. On February 10, 1863, Jeff mentioned a J. W. Mason, who "used to be in my party on the Water Works." When George considered staying in the army after the war, Jeff conferred with Mason; see his letter of May 14, 1865. Mason remained in the army until his death in 1882. According to his letter to Jeff on January 30, 1865, Whitman wrote to "Captain" Mason the same day; on February 7, Jeff noted that Mason had complied with Whitman's request. Whitman apparently wrote again on February 13, and Mason replied from City Point on February 16 that a box had been sent to George on February 10, and that Whitman's letter would be forwarded by "1st Flag of Truce." [back]

6. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. Like Jeff Whitman, he collected money from his employees and friends for Walt's hospital work. Lane sent Whitman $15.20 in his letter of January 26, 1863, and later various sums which Whitman acknowledged in letters from February 6, 1863, May 11, 1863, May 26, 1863, and September 9, 1863. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. In an unpublished manuscript in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane assisted Whitman in other ways as well (see Whitman's letters from December 29, 1862, and February 13, 1863). He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." [back]

7. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Jeff and Mattie. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85; 330). [back]

8. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), also known as "Mattie," wife of Whitman's brother Jeff. [back]

9. Mannahatta and Jessie, Jeff's daughters. [back]

10. George Washington Whitman (1829-1901), Walt's brother. [back]


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