Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Abby H. Price, 7 April 1869

Date: April 7, 1869

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:80–81. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Whitman Archive ID: pml.00028

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, and Nicole Gray




Attorney General's Office,
Washington.
April 7, 1869.

Dear Abby,

Here I am in the same office, at the same desk, writing to you again—though the interval I know has been too long—but I will try not to let so long a time elapse in future.

There is not much difference with me, in any respect—I have been, & am quite well, considering—though I have had trouble from a cold during the winter & spring—My situation in the office continues the same—The new Attorney General, Mr. Hoar,1 treats me very kindly—He is from Concord, Mass. & is personally intimate with Emerson. Washington has been swarming with office-seekers2—about half of whom have left—thousands in disgust—it is quite a curiosity to see them around the Departments, in the hotels, and at the White House & Capitol—

The O'Connors3 are well as usual—William is still in the Treasury Dept —I spent last Sunday evening with them, at their house—

I am still boarding at the same place—I expect to bring out the final edition of my book the ensuing summer4—stereotyped—(positively last appearance for the season &c) as the play bills say—

Abby, I have been waiting till I felt in the mood to write a long, good [inter]esting letter to you [all?]5—but it's no use waiting—so I write this. Don't be mad at me because I have been so negligent—You all have my love & "best respects" to boot—how I should like just to come in & spend the afternoon & evening with you—& Helen & Emily6—& then have a good bouncing argument with Mr. Arnold,7 about finances, patriotism, &c &c—What do you think of Grant—his doings—especially some of his diplomatic appointments—Washburn,8 for instance?

Good bye, dear friends—Love to you all.
Walt.


Correspondent:
Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Whitman and with Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860 the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor from November 15, 1863, Whitman declared with emphasis, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply."

Notes:

1. Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar (1816–1895) was Attorney General from 1869 to 1870 and was later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Evidently during the last month of Johnson's administration Walt Whitman had some uncertain moments as to his future, for on February 17, 1869 his mother asked: "walt what is it you alluded to that was disagreable in the office." In his additions to the second edition of Notes on Walt Whitman, As Poet and Person (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1871) John Burroughs wrote cryptically: "and afterward, (1869,) he is subjected, in another Department, to trains of dastardly official insolence by a dignitary of equal rank [to Harlan], from whom he narrowly escapes the same fate" (123). [back]

2. Because of Grant's new administration. [back]

3. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was one of Whitman's strongest defenders, most notably in his 1866 pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" In 1872, while living in the O'Connors' home, Whitman strongly disagreed with O'Connor over the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William moved out. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)."  [back]

4. In a publicity blurb in the Washington Sunday Chronicle on May 9, 1869 (reprinted by Emory Holloway, American Mercury, 18 1929, 482–483), Walt Whitman spoke of his plans for the summer: a new edition of Leaves of Grass, "the collection, revised, and including his new verses on religious themes," and Democratic Vistas. These works did not appear until 1871. [back]

5. There is an ink blot here. [back]

6. On April 7, 1869, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman informed her son that "Emily price is going to get married ... his name is law an artist in the cheap picture line." [back]

7. A friend of the Prices, John Arnold lived with his daughter's family in the same house as the Price family. Helen Price described him as "a Swedenborgian," with whom Walt Whitman frequently argued without "the slightest irritation between them"; see Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), 26–27. [back]

8. Elihu Benjamin Washburne (1816–1887) served as Grant's Secretary of State for a few days and then resigned to become minister to France. [back]


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