Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Edward Wilkins, 20 March 1890

Date: March 20, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00936

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:30–31. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
March 20 '90

Dear Ed

Y'rs came this morning & welcome—Nothing very different here—much the same with me in health &c:—am feeling at the best I am capable of these times (& that is poor enough)—had a fresh egg & nice biscuit & coffee for my breakfast—sleep fairly yet—Warren1 is still with me & is very kind & good—gives me first rate massages, (twice a day)—Harry2 is quite unwell—the stomach seems to have given out, obstinately & badly, & there are other bad features—but H is young, good-spirited & the spring of year is at hand—all favorable points to threaten'd or incipient sickness—Mrs: D[avis]3 is well & smiling as usual—all send love & best remembrance to you—as I do too—

I send the Camden "Morning News" of this mn'g wh' has a piece ab't me4—the English register'd envelope, tho' common enough, will be one of the curios for y'r stamp collection—Ed, the little dinner5 b'k6 is a present to you, & is not to be paid for—Do you remember Harry Stafford7—He is quite sick—has fits of being out of his mind—his wife8 has a new baby boy9—Mrs: Somers's husband10 is dead & buried—a young RR friend Elwood Mills11 (consumption) was buried a few days ago, Warren's friend—you remember Florence12 over in Phila? She has a fine little red-headed baby boy—So the contrast—birth & life—just here I receive a beautiful bunch of great white lilies, sent me f'm Bermuda—Ed, when a fellow learns he knows little or nothing in reality, the old Socratic rule was, he was beginning to learn the very best—God bless you, boy—

Always your friend
Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195.

Notes:

1. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate.  [back]

2. Harry Fritzinger (about 1866–?) was the brother of Warren Fritzinger, who would serve as Whitman's nurse beginning in October 1889. Harry worked as an office boy in Camden when he was fourteen. He also worked as a sailor. Later, he became a railroad conductor. Mary Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, took care of both Harry and Warren after the death of their father, the sea captain Henry W. Fritzinger. Davis had looked after Capt. Fritzinger, who was blind, before she started to perform the same housekeeping services for Whitman. [back]

3. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. A "piece by young Mr Cate in the 'Morning News'—I sent copies to many friends" (The Commonplace-Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839-1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

5. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

6. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration on May 31, 1889 in Camden, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

7. Walt Whitman met the 18-year-old Harry Lamb Stafford (b. 1858) in 1876, beginning a relationship which was almost entirely overlooked by early Whitman scholarship, in part because Stafford's name appears nowhere in the first six volumes of Horace Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden—though it does appear frequently in the last three volumes, which were published only in the 1990s. Whitman occasionally referred to Stafford as "My (adopted) son" (as in a December 13, 1876, letter to John H. Johnston), but the relationship between the two also had a romantic, erotic charge to it. For further discussion of Stafford, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Stafford, Harry L. (b.1858)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Eva Westcott married Harry Stafford in 1884. [back]

9. George Wescott Stafford was born on January 30, the second child of Harry and Eva. See Charles L. Stafford, The Stafford Family (n.d.), 17. [back]

10. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

11. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]


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