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Walt Whitman to John Swinton, 23 February 1863

John, I write to call your attention to an article, (Times correspondence,) I have just written & sent about the Military Hospitals here2—as they are so generally and sadly interesting to the public. You will easily recognize the article—I enclose you my address—write me a line about it, at your leisure—(to-morrow or next day.)

Is William3 in New York—or where?

The article is to be paid for.


Scottish-born John Swinton (1829–1901), a journalist and friend of Karl Marx, became acquainted with Whitman during the Civil War. Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he probably met Whitman. Whitman's correspondence with Swinton began on February 23, 1863. Swinton's enthusiasm for Whitman was unbounded. On September 25, 1868, Swinton wrote: "I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never before read. I could convey no idea to you of how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry." On June 23, 1874, Swinton wrote what the poet termed "almost like a love letter": "It was perhaps the very day of the publication of the first edition of the 'Leaves of Grass' that I saw a copy of it at a newspaper stand in Fulton street, Brooklyn. I got it, looked into it with wonder, and felt that here was something that touched on depths of my humanity. Since then you have grown before me, grown around me, and grown into me" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, April 10, 1888). He praised Whitman in the New York Herald on April 1, 1876 (reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 36–37). Swinton was in 1874 a candidate of the Industrial Political Party for the mayoralty of New York. From 1875 to 1883, he was with the New York Sun, and for the next four years edited the weekly labor journal, John Swinton's Paper. When this publication folded, he returned to the Sun. See Robert Waters, Career and Conversation of John Swinton (Chicago: C.H. Kerr, 1902), and Meyer Berger, The History of The New York Times, 1851–1951 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 250–251. For more on Swinton, see also Donald Yannella, "Swinton, John (1829–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: John Swinton, | Care H. J. Raymond, | Editor New York Times | New York | City. It is postmarked: Washington | Feb | 2(?) | 1863 | D. C. [back]
  • 2. "The Great Army of the Sick: Military Hospitals in Washington" was printed in the Times of February 26; it later appeared in The Wound Dresser as "The Great Army of the Wounded" (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 7:81–90). Swinton in his reply to Whitman on February 25 said: "I have crowded out a great many things to get [the article] in...I am glad to see you are engaged in such good work at Washington. It must be even more refreshing [than] to sit by Pfaff's privy and eat sweet-breads and drink coffee, and listen to the intolerable wit of the crack-brains" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, [1906–1996], 9 vols., 1:416). [back]
  • 3. John Swinton's brother William Swinton (1833–1892) was war correspondent of the New York Times. His hostility to Union generals and his unscrupulous tactics led to his suspension as a reporter on July 1, 1864. Whitman did not have a high opinion of William's journalism; see his letter from June 10, 1864. He was professor of English at the University of California from 1869 to 1874. Thereafter he compiled extremely successful textbooks, and established the magazine, Story-Teller, in 1883. [back]
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