Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hiram J. Ramsdell to Walt Whitman, 22 July 1867

Date: July 22, 1867

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01832

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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, John Schwaninger, Ashley Lawson, Caterina Bernardini, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, Kassie Jo Baron, Stephanie Blalock, and Jeff Hill

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New Castle Pa1
July 22.

My Dear Walt—

I got your pleasant letter,2 and thank you for the attention you paid my note through Mr. Cummins.3 I feared over aggressiveness (perhaps my mulishness) on the 20 percent and other mooted questions had obliterated on your side, our friendship. I am happy in begging your pardon. & I have not seen Townsend4 since his return over the water, but I had a talk with his beautiful and intelligent wife5 in Phila & she said that not only did Townsend admire you and yours but that he had also weaned her from a prejudice. I do not believe that man exists whom Townsend is more anxious to know intimately than lusty Walt Whitman. You will both be gratified one of these days, for it is your and his Destiny. I wonder if I will lose two "bully" friends, when you two come together?

Cummins is a whole [souled?], but erratic, fellow, and a good companion. He regards his friendships warmly. I'm glad you met him.

I should like to see Burrough's6 book on you,7 & will pay the price & postage if he will send it to me. However I expect to be in Washington in a couple of weeks & I can secure the essay then. The health of self & family is better than for sometime past—thanks to the pure air of the mountains. I think I never appreciated the country before—its flowers, its trees its rocks & its brooks, to say nothing of the greenness of the grass or the perfumed air. I have looked for the name in the corner of the Lord's pockethand kerchief many times here & I dare not say I have not found it.8

Write me again before I see you.

The Ramsdell family here9 send nothing short of love to Walt Whitman.

H J Ramsdell

I do not know George Townsend's present address, but care of Tribune will reach him


Hiram J. Ramsdell (1839–1887) was a clerk in Washington; in a hospital notebook (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California), Whitman called him "chief clerk." Ramsdell was the Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune and the Cincinnati Commercial. On May 8, 1867, Ramsdell reported the high praise that George Townsend, the journalist (1841–1914), accorded to Whitman—"a stupendous genius," "the song of a God." On July 17, 1867, he asked Whitman to do whatever he could for Judge Milton Kelly, of Idaho, against whom charges had been brought by "a very bad man," Congressman Edward Dexter Holbrook (1836–1870), a Democrat from the Idaho Territory. Actually, on July 12, 1867, Whitman had submitted to the Attorney General a "Report on the Charges submitted by Hon. E. D. Holbrook, Del[egate] from Idaho Terr[itory], against Hon. Milton Kelly, Asso[ciate] Just[ice] Supreme Court of Idaho" (National Archives). To this forty-one page summary of the evidence, all in Whitman's hand, there is appended a letter signed by attorney general Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) but inscribed by Whitman, dated July 20, 1867: "The Conclusion in the preceding Report is hereby adopted by me, & ordered to stand as the decision of this Office in the Case, so far as now presented." On July 22, 1867, Ramsdell apologized for his "aggressiveness." Judge Kelly wrote to Whitman on June(?) 21, 1867 (National Archives), and again on August 9, 1867. On November 15, 1875, Ramsdell, among others, petitioned Benjamin H. Bristow (1832–1896), Secretary of the Treasury, that Whitman "be appointed to a position in the Treasury Department" (National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.).


1. This letter is postmarked: NEW CASTLE | PA. | JUL | 22; CARRIER | JUL | 24 | [illegible] [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Ramsdell of July 19, 1867[back]

3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

4. George Alfred Townsend (1841–1914) was a writer and journalist who contributed to the New York Herald and the Chicago Tribune. In 1862, Townsend became a war-correspondent for the New York Herald and later served in the same capacity for the New York World. It may have been because of Townsend's affiliation that Whitman sent "Song of the Exposition" to the Chicago Tribune on May 5, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 11). On May 10, 1876, the newspaper returned the manuscript because it arrived too late for publication. [back]

5. Ramsdell is referring to Elizabeth (Bessie) Evans Rhodes Townsend (1842–1903), who married George Townsend in 1865. According to her obituary, Bessie Townsend was a relative of the novelist Marian Evans (George Eliot) (The New York Times, May 31, 1903, 7). [back]

6. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. John Burroughs's Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person was first published in New York in 1867. The text was extensively revised and rewritten by Whitman. [back]

8. Ramsdell echoes famous lines in the poem now known as "Song of Myself." In the 1860 version of this poem, then called "Walt Whitman," the poet reflects on the grass: "Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, / A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropped, / Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?" [back]

9. Hiram Ramsdell was married to Emily Garretson Ramsdell (1839–1916), the daughter of William Garretson (1801–1872), a lawyer and conductor on the Underground Railroad. At this time, the Ramsdells had one daughter, Etta (b. 1867). Their son Morton was born in 1869. [back]


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