Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: John Swinton to Walt Whitman, 25 February 1863

Date: February 25, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00593

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 Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906), 1:416. 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, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Nick Krauter


My dear Walt—

You will find the article you sent will be in the Times of this morning, when it is published. I1 have crowded out a great many things to get it in, and it has taken the precedence of army correspondence and articles which have been waiting a month for insertion. It is excellent—the first part and the closing part of it especially. I am glad to see you are engaged in such good work at Washington. It must be even more refreshing than to sit by Pfaff's privy2 and eat sweet-breads and drink coffee, and listen to the intolerable wit of the crack-brains. I happened in there the other night, and the place smelt as atrociously as ever. Pfaff looked as of yore. I read your article in proof and hope it's all accurate enough. "The field large—the reapers few" is the finest paragraph. Everything in New York moves on pretty much as usual. It's the old town—only different.

My brother William3 sailed for Port Royal ten days ago—to be present at the attack on Charleston—if it is to be attacked.4

Do you know Conway of Kansas?5 He is a good man If you don't know him, and if he would be of any service to you in any way, I know he would be rejoiced to serve you, if you mentioned my name to him.

The article has some things in that I could recognize you by, but not many. I like it better on that account than I should otherwise.—Hoping that Vicksburg may soon fall.

J. Swinton


1. John Swinton (1829-1901), managing editor of the New York Times, frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he probably met Whitman. On January 23, 1874 (Whitman said "1884"), Swinton wrote what the poet termed "almost like a love letter": "It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the 'Leaves of Grass' that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched on depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, [New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 1905], 1:24). He praised Whitman in the New York Herald on April 1, 1876 (reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 36-37). Swinton was in 1874 a candidate of the Industrial Political Party for the mayoralty of New York. From 1875 to 1883, he was with the New York Sun, and for the next four years edited the weekly labor journal, John Swinton's Paper. When this publication folded, he returned to the Sun. See Robert Waters, Career and Conversations of John Swinton (Chicago, 1902), and Meyer Berger, The History of The New York Times, 1851-1951 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 250-251. [back]

2. This refers to Charles Pfaff's beer cellar located in lower Manhattan. For discussion of Whitman's activity there, see "The Bohemian Years." [back]

3. John Swinton's brother William Swinton (1833–1892) was war correspondent of the New York Times. His hostility to Union generals and his unscrupulous tactics led to his suspension as a reporter on July 1, 1864. Whitman did not have a high opinion of William's journalism; see his letter from June 10, 1864. He was professor of English at the University of California from 1869 to 1874. Thereafter he compiled extremely successful textbooks, and established the magazine, Story-Teller, in 1883. [back]

4. The First Battle of Charleston Harbor, an advance of ironclads under Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, finally began on April 7, 1863. [back]

5. Martin F. Conway was the first U.S. Congressman, a Republican, from Kansas. He had served as a vocal opponent to slavery—and even spent January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, in Massachusetts with Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Julia Ward Howe. That same month, he introduced a resolution before Congress calling for recognition of the Confederacy, so that war with the South might be fought as a war between nations. [back]


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