Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Flood, Jr., 23 February [1871]

Date: February 23, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01596

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), 2:118–119. 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

Feb. 23.1

Dear son,2

I received yours of the 9th—and was right glad to hear from you, and to get such an affectionate letter. We have had gay times here this week, with what they call the "Carnival"3—it continued two days & nights. The nights were the best. Every thing was lit up, and it was like a scene of enchantment. The crowds of spectators were countless. Hundreds and even thousands mixed in, the second afternoon & night in fancy dresses, or wore masks—& went around having fun. Lots of women were out, some of them as full of sport as the men—The principal street here is very wide, I should think three times as wide as Broadway. This was the scene of operations. All the vehicles were turned off, then at certain hours let on again for a while, for driving & races—there were some splendid horses—Less drinking than you would have supposed—No musses, & no accidents. I send you a paper. Last night however was a murder, a man I knew well by sight, a gambler called "Sonny James"4 was killed.

With me all goes about the same. I work about 6 hours every day, mostly writing—am well & hearty, travel around out doors quite a good deal—& keep up a cheerful heart.5 Johnny,6 you say you should like to see me—Well, no more than I should to see you, my darling7 boy. I wish we were together this minute, & you had employment so we could remain with each other, if you would feel satisfied to be so.8

Have9 you got work of any kind there in Brooklyn? Write to me, Jack,10 & let me know all particulars.11 Love to you, dear son,12 & good bye for this time.


1. Draft letter. [back]

2. Flood was a streetcar conductor in New York, known, according to an unidentified notation on his letter to Walt Whitman, as "Broadway Jack." According to date entries in an address book (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #109), Walt Whitman saw Flood on September 30, 1868, and October 5, 1868, and rode with him on his Second Avenue car; Flood had been a conductor for ten years. After Whitman's return to Washington, there was a brief correspondence, consisting of four known letters from Whitman (November 22, 1868, December 12, 1868, February 23, 1871, and March 8, 1871) and one from the young man. Flood, somewhat better educated than some of Walt Whitman's other conductor friends, wrote on January 11, 1869: "Sir, It is with great pleasure that I sit down with pen in hand to address a few lines to you." He informed Walt Whitman that he had lost his position on New Year's Eve and that he was now seeking another job: "I shall still continue to correspond and can never forget your kind friendship towards me. . . . Your True and Ever intimate friend." According to the first listing of his name in the New York Directory, in 1872–1873, he was at that time either in the milk business or a milkman.

The date of this letter is based on Walt Whitman's reference to Flood's unemployment: on January 11, 1869, Flood wrote that he had been "discharged" on New Year's Eve. Walt Whitman's first salutation was, "Dear boy." The frequent alterations in this letter are interesting: Walt Whitman softened his affectionate terms, and attempted to make the relationship that of a father and son. [back]

3. To celebrate the paving of Pennsylvania Avenue, the District of Columbia held a three-day carnival in late February 1871. Schools closed, more than 10,000 visitors came to the area, and a masked procession was held down Pennsylvania Avenue. See James H. Whyte, "The District of Columbia Territorial Government, 1871–1874," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., vol. 51/52, (1951/1952), 87–88. [back]

4. Joseph "Sonny" James, a well-known Washington gambler, was killed in a brawl by Horatio Bolster, an ex-prizefighter. [back]

5. At first Walt Whitman wrote: "& keep up pretty good spirits." [back]

6. Walt Whitman at this point deleted "Jack" and "my darling." [back]

7. The first reading was "my loving boy." [back]

8. The qualifying clause was an afterthought. [back]

9. The following was struck out at the beginning of this paragraph: "Should you feel like coming on here ... Wha ... Are you doing any th[ing]." [back]

10. Walt Whitman excised "Johnny" and "my dear son." [back]

11. The next sentence was deleted: "Don't make any move without . . . " [back]

12. "Boy" was altered to "son." [back]


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