Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 29 December 1862

Date: December 29, 1862

Whitman Archive ID: har.00050

Source: Emerson Memorial Association, Harvard University. 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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Eric Conrad, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson

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Washington, D.C.1

Monday afternoon, Dec. 29, '62.

Dear friend,

Breaking up a few weeks since, and for good, my New York stagnation—wandering since through camp and battle scenes—I fetch up here in harsh and superb plight—wretchedly poor, excellent well, (my only torment, family matters,)—realizing at last that it is necessary for me to fall for the time in the wise old way, to push my fortune, to be brazen, and get employment, and have an income—determined to do it, (at any rate until I get out of horrible sloughs) I write you, asking you as follows:

I design to apply personally direct at headquarters, for some place. I would apply on literary grounds, not political.

I wish you would write for me something like the enclosed form of letter, that I can present, opening my interview with the great man. I wish you to write two copies—put the one in an envelope directed to Mr. Seward, Secretary of State—and the other in an envelope directed to Mr. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury—and enclose both envelopes in the one I send herewith so that I can use either one or the other. I wish you also to send me a note of introduction to Charles Sumner.2

It is pretty certain that, armed in that way, I shall conquer my object. Answer me by next mail, for I am waiting here like ship waiting for the welcome breath of the wind.

Indeed yours, &c

Walt Whitman


1. Endorsed (by Walt Whitman): "R. W. Emerson. | W Whitman | 1863." [back]

2. William Henry Seward (1801–1872) was secretary of state from 1861 to 1869 under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson; Salmon Portland Chase (1808–1873) was Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1864; Charles Sumner (1811–1874) served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States Senate from 1861 to 1871. Emerson wrote to Seward and Chase on January 10, 1863, and to Whitman on January 12, 1863[back]


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