Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Silas Weir Mitchell, 30 April 1890

Date: April 30, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: pml.00066

Source: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:44. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Camden New Jersey
April 30 1890

Dear Doctor

Your splendid contribution to me has been rec'd by the hands of Horace Furness1 & is hereby deeply thank'd for ($100) & is opportune & will do me much good.

I send a copy of my Complete Works2 & some pictures—with a slip of little piece in May Century3—& my best respects, love & thanks—am just getting over the worst of a two months' siege of the grip—bad enough yet—get out in a wheel'd chair4—shall probably get out this afternoon—

God bless you, Doctor—
Walt Whitman

Dr. S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) was a specialist in nervous disorders as well as a poet and a novelist. On April 18, Whitman had his second interview with Dr. Mitchell, who attributed his earlier paralysis to a small rupture of a blood vessel in the brain but termed Whitman's heart "normal and healthy." Whitman also noted that "the bad spells [Mitchell] tho't recurrences by habit (? sort of automatic)" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Mitchell was the first physician to indicate the psychosomatic nature of many of Whitman's ailments. Probably Whitman's impending lecture on the death of Lincoln unconsciously brought back the emotional involvements of his hospital experiences with comrades whom he had come to love only to be separated from them.


1. Horace Howard Furness (1833–1912) was the distinguished editor of the Variorum Shakespeare, and was one of the honorary pallbearers at Whitman's funeral. See also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, January 12, 1889[back]

2. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose was published in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

3. Whitman also sent "the MS of 'O Captain.'" See Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). The piece from the May issue of Century is "A Twilight Song." [back]

4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]


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