Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 16 July 1865

Date: July 16, 1865

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00440

Source: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 113-115. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

Brooklyn, N. Y.,
July 16th 1865

My dear brother

We duly received your letter1—We of course all felt very indignant at the way you had been treated—but2 when I came to the statement that Harlan was a parson3 of course his conduct was to be expected  From that class you can never get anything but lying and meanness—I hope you do not allow it to have any effect on you  you must not—The poor mean-minded man—If Christ came to earth again and did'nt behave different from what he did when he was here he would have a mighty poor show with Harlan would'nt he—

The most outrageous thing was published in the Eagle4  If you have any curiosity abt it I will send it to you  It was perfectly in keeping with the paper and I'v no doubt was considered a very good thing by little Van5

I see by the papers that the 51st will probably be mustered out in a few days6  How does George feel about it7 I wonder—I still think if he wishes he could get in the regular army—

Mother had yesterday a letter from Heyde—10 pages—of the most disgusting trash8—the vilest and meanest things that he could get together  He says he shall leave Han, and go out west9—I wish he was in Hell—Mother of course is considerably exercised about it—and thinks she will go on there and bring Han home—thinks she will go next week  Of course it is foolish for Mother to attempt any thing of the kind and I dont mean to let her go—I am in hopes that George will get home next week and then he could go—I am sure that Mother would never live to get there and back let alone bringing Han—I read Heyds letter through and it is plain to me that they have had a quarrel abt some women that Heyde had in his room—they had a big row and Heyde has written to mother while the thing was fresh in his cussed head10—I suppose mother will get another letter soon rather taking the edge of[f] of this one—I've no doubt that Han has a most outrageous existance—and that she had better leave Heyde but I certainly dont think that Mother—old as she is can think of going there—she can hardly move in the morning till she gets some coffee with Mat—You must write her that she had better not go till George comes home and he can go with her—or something of that kind—dont fail to write mother—

Everything is going as usual with me—all keep about the same  Mattie and the children are well  the baby is a little down just now—but I guess she will be all right again in a few days—My friend Davis11 has got back from Peru—he spent 3 or 4 days with me last week—

Write to me



1. Whitman's letter of about July 15, 1865, is not extant. [back]

2. Whitman enclosed in parentheses everything after "but" to the end of the paragraph. [back]

3. James Harlan (1820–1899), secretary of the interior from 1865 to 1866, dismissed Whitman from his second-class clerkship on June 30, 1865. Harlan apparently took offense at the copy of the 1860 Leaves of Grass which Whitman was revising and which he kept at his desk. With the help of William Douglas O'Connor and Assistant Attorney General J. Hubley Aston, Whitman secured a position in the attorney general's office. The Harlan episode led directly to O'Connor's pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet." Although Harlan was a Methodist, he was not a parson. Whitman may have sarcastically applied this term to Harlan because on May 30, 1865, Harlan had issued an official directive asking for the names of employees who disregarded "in their conduct, habits, and associations the rules of decorum & propriety prescribed by a Christian Civilization" (Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman's Champion [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978], 57). [back]

4. On July 12, 1865, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published "Morality in Washington," which noted that "Walt Whitman has lost his position in the Interior Department at Washington under the general order discharging immoral persons, his 'Leaves of Grass' being produced as evidence of his immorality.... Walt is personally a good-hearted fellow, with some ability, but he was bitten with the mania of transcendentalism, which broke out in New England some years ago." Perhaps Jeff's outrage resulted from the charge that Whitman "wrote of things no right minded person is supposed ever to think of, and used language shocking to ears polite....He now occupies a desk in the Attorney General's office, where we suppose they are not so particular about morals." [back]

5. Isaac Van Anden. See Jeff Whitman's letter to Walt from April 6, 1863[back]

6. On July 25, 1865, the Fifty-first Regiment of New York Volunteers was discharged from military service. [back]

7. In her letter to Walt Whitman of August 8, 1865, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote: "I gess they are all sorry  i dont know as they are sorry the war is over but i gess they would much rather staid in camp...[George] is very restless" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

8. Jeff may be thinking of this passage from Heyde's letter of June 1865: Hannah "will not dress herself decently, but in place of this when I come home to dinner...she manages to quarrell me out of it—so that I leave it half eaten—she begins by questioning me about my women [Heyde's art students],...and goes so far as to intimate that I have sexual intercourse with my pupils, at my room This is damned mean—reckless characterless, common, and disgusting" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

9. Heyde intended to separate from Hannah and "go West." He planned no return: "I would rather go to Patagonia" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

10. Jeff is inaccurate here. Heyde's letter is clearly dated "June 1865," and while he may have written in a fit of passion he had restraint enough not to send the letter immediately. As Heyde himself explained: "This letter has been written for a long time. I have concluded to send it to you. Realy my experience robs my heart of all charity—Han has a plausible superficiality, but under that she is she devil, to men" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

11. See Jeff's letter to Walt from September 22, 1863[back]


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