Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Susan Stafford, 28 May 1887

Date: May 28, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05994

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.

Related item: Walt Whitman wrote this letter to Susan Stafford, dated May 28, 1887, on the back of a letter from Herbert Gilchrist, dated May 27, 1887. Whitman intended the letter from Gilchrist as an enclosure for Stafford. See loc.03939.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kevin McMullen, and Stephanie Blalock

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Saturday 2pm May 28 '87

Dear friend

I send you the within just rec'd from Herbert G.1—I have an idea that he will be on here Monday or Tuesday—If the spirit moves me & the weather is fine, I may come down Sunday, (before you get this)—but possibly not—so I tho't I w'd send you the present screed—Showery & almost cool here the last two days. As I write, the sun is out, & my bird singing—I have had my dinner, mutton-stew, onions, & greens—(I used the vinegar you gave me on 'em—good—the bottle is most all gone, & I shall bring it down to be fill'd up)—I have not felt as well as usual the last three days— we had it hot & disagreeable enough here previous—Susan come up here & stay awhile & visit us—George2 too—Mrs. D3 would be glad too—Lord be easy with you both—

Walt Whitman

An old southern farmer John Newton Johnson4 has come up here from Alabama, 700 miles, to see me, & is here now. He is the queerest, wildest cutest mortal you ever saw has a boy 12 yrs old named Walt Whitman

Hotel St. Stephen, European Plan,
46 to 52 East Eleventh Street,
Between Broadway and University Place.
W.D. Ryder, Proprietor. New York,
May 27 1887

Dear Walt;

I arrived here from the "Germanic" a few hours ago:—think that I shall stay here in the Germanic 4 or 5 days, not more, and then shall come on to Camden, where I want to lodge, if I can find a lodging. —simply, one decent clean bedroom will do for me.

We had a squally disagreeable passage, notably so for the time of year.

With love to you from
Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist.

Susan M. Lamb Stafford (1833–1910) was the mother of Harry Stafford (1858–1918), who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. Whitman enjoyed the atmosphere and tranquility that the farm provided and would often stay for weeks at a time (see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685).


1. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. George Stafford (1827–1892) was Susan's husband and Harry's father. [back]

3. Mary Oakes Davis was Whitman's housekeeper. [back]

4. John Newton Johnson (1832–1904) was a colorful and eccentric self-styled philosopher from rural Alabama. There are about thirty letters from Johnson in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919 (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), but unfortunately there are no replies extant, although Whitman wrote frequently for a period of approximately fifteen years. When Johnson wrote for the first time on August 13, 1874, he was forty-two, "gray as a rat," as he would say in another letter from September 13, 1874: a former Rebel soldier with an income between $300 and $400 annually, though before the war he had been "a slaveholding youthful 'patriarch.'" He informed Whitman in the August 13, 1874, letter that during the past summer he had bought Leaves of Grass and, after a momentary suspicion that the bookseller should be "hung for swindling," he discovered the mystery of Whitman's verse, and "I assure you I was soon 'cavorting' round and asserting that the $3 book was worth $50 if it could not be replaced, (Now Laugh)." He offered either to sell Whitman's poetry and turn over to him all profits or to lend him money. On October 7, 1874, after describing Guntersville, Alabama, a town near his farm from which he often mailed his letters to Whitman, he commented: "Orthodoxy flourishes with the usual lack of flowers or fruit." See also Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1915), 125–130. [back]


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