Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Benton H. Wilson, 15 April 1870

Date: April 15, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01563

Source: The 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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:95–96. 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, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

April 15—1870.1

Dear Benton Wilson,2
Dear loving comrade,

As I have just been again reading your last letter to me of December 19, last, I think I wrote to you on receiving it, but cannot now remember for certain. Sometimes, after an interval, the thought of one I much love comes upon me strong & full all of a sudden—& now as I sit here by a big open window, this beautiful afternoon, every thing quiet & sunny—I have been, & am now, thinking so of you, dear young man,3 & of your love, or more rightly speaking, our love for each other—so curious, so sweet, I say so religious

We met there in the Hospital4—how little we have been together—seems to me we ought to be some together every day of our lives—I don't care about talking, or amusement—but just to be together, & work together, or go off in the open air together—Now it is a long while since we have been together—& it seems a long while since I have had a letter. Don't blame me for not writing oftener.

I know you would feel satisfied if you could only realize how & how much I am thinking of you, & with what great love,5 this afternoon. I can hardly express it in a letter6—but I thought I would just write a letter this time off-hand to you, dearest soldier, only for love to you—I thought it might please you.

Nothing very new or different in my affairs. I am still working here in Atty Gens office—same posish —have good health—expect to bring out new editions of my books before very long—how is the little boy—I send my love to him, & to your wife & parents.7


1. Draft letter. [back]

2. For Walt Whitman's earlier correspondence with this ex-soldier, see his April 12, 1867 letter to Wilson. 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 Walt 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." Benton's father, who "was insane at times," had written to Walt Whitman on January 17, 1867, and on March 30, 1868. Evidently Benton wrote to Walt Whitman for the last time on June 23, 1875, when he wanted to know "what I can do to contribute to your comfort and happiness." [back]

3. Originally Walt Whitman wrote "dearest young man." [back]

4. Walt Whitman struck out the following: "How good it was that we met—I remember the times we used to sit there in the Ward in Armory Square Hospital." [back]

5. The first reading was: "with what peculiar great love." [back]

6. At this point, obviously groping for words, Walt Whitman wrote but then deleted: "O if we could only be together now even if only Dear Boy, dear, dear friend, my dear solider—dear comrade." [back]

7. In 1888 Walt Whitman commented to Horace Traubel about this letter: "I can't live some of my old letters over again. . . . Comradeship—yes, that's the thing: getting one and one together to make two—getting the twos together everywhere to make all: that's the only bond we should accept and that's the only freedom we should desire: comradeship, comradeship" (Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 2:370–371). [back]


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