Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Fred B. Vaughan to Walt Whitman, 16 November 1874

Date: November 16, 1874

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01970

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 notes: The annotations, "Fred: Vaughan," and "Nov. '74," are in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kevin McMullen, John Schwaninger, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Caterina Bernardini, Stephanie Blalock, Marie Ernster, Noelle Bates, and Amanda J. Axley

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Nov. 16th 1874

Dear Walt—

I promised to write to you a week ago Sunday Evening and did not do it—I have no apology to offer—Years ago Dear Walt—(And looking back over the tombstones it seems Centuries)—Father used to tell me I was lazy Mother denied it—and in latter years=(but O' my friend still looking over tombstones) I used to tell your Mother2 you was lazy and she denied it.—You have asserted yourself. I have confirmed my Father—O, Walt what recollections will crowd upon us both, individually and in company from the above. To me the home so long long past—the brother—sisters—the sea—the return—New York, the Stage box,—Broadway,—Walt,—the Press—the Railroad Marriage, Express—Babies—trouble. Rum More trouble—More Rum—Estrangement from you. More Rum.—Good intentions, sobriety Misunderstanding and more Rum

Up and down                down and up = The innate manly nature of myself at times getting the best of it and at other times Entirely submerged—Now praying now cursing—Yet Ever hoping—and Even now my friend often loosing my hold of the highest rung of the ladder of fortune I Ever reached and dropping slowly but surely from rung to rung until I have almost reached the bottom I still hope—From causes to numerous and complex to Explain Except verbally I found myself in June last in Brooklyn possessed of a wife and four boys—aged 12-9-4. years—and one of 8 months—no money no credit—no friends of a/c and no furniture—Well, I am writing with my own pen, ink, and paper on my own table, in a hired room, warmed by my own fire and lighted by my own oil—my wife sleeping on a bed near me and the Boys in an adjoining room.—

I have just got through supper after a hard days work and have to start again in the morning at 7 o'clock and am glad of it—                I am living in Atlantic ave one door above Classon ave and have been down past our old home3 several times this summer taking Freddie4 with me—

There is never a day passes but what I think of you

So much have you left to be remembered by—a Broadway stage—a Fulton ferry boat a bale of cotton on the dock. The "Brooklyn Daily Times"5—a ship loading or unloading at the wharf.—a poor man fallen from the roof of a new building a woman & child suffocated by smoke in a burning tenement house, all—all to me speak of thee Dear Walt.—

Seeing then my friend the past thou occupiest in my spiritual nature—. I feel assured you will forgive any remissness of me in writing—My love my Walt is with you alway.—

I earnestly pray God that he may see fit to assauge your sufferings and in due time restore your wonted health and strength owing to "impecuniosity" (The first time I Ever seen that word was in a letter from R.W. Emerson6 to you while we were living in Classon ave. Excusing himself as I now do) I cannot promise to come and see you soon—                But Walt should you become seriously ill, promise to telegraph to me immediately.

My Father is Dead. Brother Burpe7 is dead

I have not heard from Mother in 10 months.—

My wife is faithful–loving–honest, true, and one you Could dearly love.

Ever yours,

Care Leviness & Weeber
164 Fulton St

# # Walt=Please do not criticize my grammer nor phraseology—It was written to heartfelt to alter—Fred.8

Fred Vaughan was a young Irish stage driver with whom Whitman had an intense relationship during the late 1850's. For discussion of Vaughan's relationship with Whitman, see Jonathan Ned Katz, Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 123–132; Charley Shively, Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working-Class Camerados (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1987), 36–50; Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price, Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work, "Chapter 4: Intimate Script and the New American Bible: "Calamus" and the Making of the 1860 Leaves of Grass."


1. This letter is addressed: Camden, N. J. | Walt Whitman | 431 Stevens Str | Corner West Str. It is postmarked: [illegible] | Nov 17 | 12M | N. Y. [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. In the mid- to late-1850s, Vaughan lived with Whitman at the Whitman family's Classon Avenue home. [back]

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

5. Originally launched as the Williamsburgh Daily Times, the newspaper became the Brooklyn Daily Times when the city of Williamsburg was annexed to the city of Brooklyn as an Eastern-District in 1855. The newspaper included reviews of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (see "From the Brooklyn Daily Times"). Whitman worked at the paper from 1857 to 1859. [back]

6. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet, essayist, and leader among the Transcendentalists. In his famous letter to Walt Whitman of July 21, 1855, Emerson wrote of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start." For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

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

8. Whitman often enclosed a self-addressed envelope in his outgoing letters to friends. The envelope in which Vaughan mailed this letter appears to be one such envelope pre-addressed by Whitman. [back]


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