Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Byron Sutherland to Walt Whitman, 30 March 1870

Date: March 30, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01953

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "from Byron Sutherland, March 30 1870. ans. April 4 '70.," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Ashley Lawson, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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Jamestown N.Y.1
March 30th 1870

Dear respected friend

Feeling assured that any information of my doings and whereabouts will meet with only the kindest reception from you, I venture once more, after [my?] long silence, to address you.

If any excuse be neccessary, let my [respect?] and esteem be that excuse.

When I wrote you last I was attending the Penn. State Normal School2 at Edinboro:3 Since then I have been in the school room as a student or teacher nearly all of the [time] I have just finished a very nice ess[ay?] [on school?] as teacher

(You [illegible] [once?] said, "That boy ha[s a] [illegible]inion of himself"; but I [note?] [illegible] [telling?] you facts) and have just entered upon the study of Law; In conseq[uence] of my very [li?]mited means (as you know) I cannot remain in the [office?] longer than next fall.

Though we enjoyed our homeless life in Washington I think I have enjoyed my more wandering life since then somewhat better—If the world gives me few pennies it at least gives me few curses, and, some kind words: Is this good philosophy?

Any words of comfort you may choose to send me Dear freind, in reply to this, will be to me "like unto the shadow of a great rock in a weary land"

I do not know that this will find you immediately—you may have "changed base" since '68, though I trust it may.

Good night kind friend—
By. Sutherland

Walt Whitman

Noah Byron Sutherland (1846–1915?) was born in New York; he was the son of John G. Sutherland (b. 1798), a farmer, and Anna (Anny) Sutherland (1807–1880). Byron Sutherland was a Union soldier during the U. S. Civil War, and he served in the 145th Pennsylvania Infantry. He met Whitman in Washington, D. C., and the two began corresponding on August 26, 1865. Sutherland did farm work in Pennsylvania after the Civil War, and he also studied law and teaching (among other subjects) at the State Normal School in Erie County, Pennsylvania. In April 1870, Sutherland was teaching in Jamestown, New York. In reply to Whitman's request for further information about his life, the former soldier observed on April 8, 1870: "You remember me in 1865 a green vain (?) lad of Eighteen—without, even, an imperfect knowledge of the rudimentary English branches, I came home from Washington and applied myself, as soon as possible, to school and to study . . . My life since we parted that July day upon the Treasury steps, has been one of hard work and little recreation—I find on looking back to that time, that I am not so pure or trusting—that the world isint quite so fair and beautiful as it seemed then—That the world is not precisely a green pasture for unsophistocated human lambs to skip in—That I like dreaming less, and work or excitement better—That I have lost a great deal of Ambition, and gained a like quantity of stupidity—That I dont know nearly so much as I once supposed I did." By 1877, Sutherland had moved to Minnesota, where he married Sarah Raymond Brown Peck (1848–after 1915?), practiced law, and worked as a farmer.


1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Attorney Gen's Office | Washington D.C. It is postmarked: Jamestown | Mar 31; [CARRIER] | APR | 4 | [illegible]. [back]

2. The State Normal School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, was first chartered in 1856 as an academy. It became a normal school, meant for the training of teachers, in 1861. The normal school phenomenon had only recently caught on in the United States, with the first normal school having been established in Massachusetts in 1839. [back]

3. See Byron Sutherland's letter to Whitman of October 8, 1868[back]


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