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: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, Nick Krauter, Stefan Schöberlein, and Amanda J. Axley

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Dec 16th 1866

Dear Friend Whitman,

I received your kind and welcome letter 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 aggreeable 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.
B.H. Wilson.

The friendship between Whitman and Wilson, a former U. S. Civil War soldier, can be reconstructed from Wilson's letters (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On July 18, 1869, Wilson recalled his confinement in Armory Square Hospital (as mentioned in Whitman's November 8–9, 1863, letter to Lewis K. Brown), "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." After a lapse in the correspondence, he wrote on December 16, 1866: "I wish if aggreeable to yourself to keep up a regular correspondence between us ... I think it will be of benefit to me morally, and perhaps will not be of any detriment to you." In this letter he admitted that he had just discovered that Whitman was a poet. 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." Walt Whitman replied (lost), and sent The Good Gray Poet, which Wilson acknowledged on February 3, 1867. 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), Wilson 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, 1867, Wilson acknowledged Whitman's reply of April 12, 1867: "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, 1867, Wilson wondered why Whitman had not replied. In his letter of December 19, 1869, Wilson reported that he had moved to Greene, N. Y., but was still selling melodeons and sewing machines. On May 15, 1870, Wilson informed Whitman of his father's death two weeks earlier and related that his son "Little Walt . . . is quite a boy now . . . and gets into all kinds of Mischief." Evidently Wilson wrote to the poet for the last time on June 23, 1875, when he wanted to know "what I can do to contribute to your comfort and happiness."


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