Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Benton H. Wilson to Walt Whitman, 16 December 1866

Date: December 16, 1866

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00614

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 Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers, ed. Charley Shively (San Francisco, California: Gay Sunshine Press, 1989), 214-215. 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 Nick Krauter

Dear Friend Whitman,

I1 received your kind and welcome leter of the 13th inst and I assure you I was very glad to hear from you again and to hear that you are in good health and hope you will escape from any more attacks of Neuralgia.

I wish if agreeable to yourself to keep up a regular correspondence between us, and perpetuate the friendship commenced in Armory Square Hospital. I think it will be of benefit to me morally and perhaps will not be of any detriment to you.

A few days ago I picked up a paper through my Friend Hamilton containing an article regarding Walt Whitman the Poet which was the first intimation I had of your being an author. I will send you the paper if you wish. I would like very much to read your works for I have heard my Father speak a few days ago of your Leaves of Grass and says it is well suited to the American People. Father has been here visiting me for a few days but has gone away now. he borrowed Leaves of Grass, of a friend of his here several years ago I believe, I have never seen any of your works. The weather has been very Cold for the past week and this morning it commenced to snow and has not stopped yet at 4 P.M. and I think we are going to have some sleighing for Christmas. I hope our political troubles will soon cease and the country get settled but I can not endorse the policy of President Johnson for I do not believe it is right to place the rebels in office or to allow them to vote until they are thoroughly repentant.

I must draw my letter to a close for this time, and hope I shall hear from you soon again. I hope you will have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

With love I remain your sincere Friend.


1. The friendship of Whitman with this former soldier can be reconstructed from Wilson's letters in the Feinberg Collection. On July 18, 1869, Wilson recalled his confinement in Armory Square Hospital (see Whitman's letter of November 8–9, 1863), "when your kind face & pleasant words cheered the soldier Boys & won their hearts. I never shall forget the first time you came in after David & I got there. We Loved you from the first time we spoke to you." In Wilson's first letter, written on November 11, 1865, he began: "I suppose you will think that I have forgotten you long before this time but I have not, your kindness to me while in the hospital will never be forgotten by me." On January 27, 1867, he informed Whitman that he had been reading Leaves of Grass, but complained: "I wrote to you a year and more ago that I was married but did not receive any reply, so I did not know but you was displeased with it"; he concluded the letter: "I remain as ever your | Boy Friend | with Love | Benton H. Wilson." Whitman replied (lost), and sent William D. O'Connor's The Good Gray Poet, which Wilson acknowledged on February 3. On April 7, 1867, after he informed Whitman that his wife had gone to the hospital for her first confinement (the child was to be named Walt Whitman), he complained: "I am poor and am proud of it but I hope to rise by honesty and industry. I am a married man but I am not happy for my disposition is not right. I have got a good Woman and I love her dearly but I seem to lack patience or something. I think I had ought to live alone, but I had not ought to feel so." On April 21, Wilson acknowledged Whitman's reply of April 12: "I do not want you to misunderstand my motives in writing to you of my Situation & feelings as I did in my last letter or else I shall have to be more guarded in my letters to you. I wrote so because you wanted me to write how I was situated, and give you my mind without reserve, and all that I want is your advice and Love, and I do not consider it cold lecture or dry advice. I wish you to write to me just as you feel & express yourself and advise as freely as you wish and will be satisfied." On September 15, Wilson wondered why Whitman had not replied. See also Whitman's letter to Benton H. Wilson from April 15, 1870 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–69], 1:182–184). [back]


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