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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 12 July 1868

Dear Walt,

Tis a long time since I have written to you1—not since I wrote a short note from Pittsburgh  I received a few days ago a paper (Boston) containing a notice of you2—I was much pleased upon reading it—

We are all pretty well all very well except Mat  she has a bad cough3—and she has had it so long that I begin to feel quite anxious that she should be rid of it  I have had a doctor examine her lungs two or three times but he says they are not as yet to any extent affected  I miss the advice and counsel of Dr. Ruggles4 in all such cases much—Mat caught a bad cold when we first moved to the house5 we are living in and she has not been entirely free from it since although she has been better once or twice—I am in great hopes however that in a few weeks she will get the better of it. How are matters progressing with you—I suppose as usual—is the hot weather in Washington pretty bad  We have had a visit from Grant6 but he is coming and going like any other "man" and I guess it is a good thing people dont get excited [during] this hot weather

What do you think of the selection of candidates by the New York Convention7—rather a lame affair isnt it—but of all the poor devils old Chase8 must feel the worse  I can not conceive of a more general "cave in" than Mr Chase[e] made—and our friend A. J.9 cannot be over jovial at the result.

Do you ever see anything of Mason10—if so how does he look and what will he do when Grant is elected Prest.

We are progressing slowly with the work11—not so fast as I hoped or expected—Yet I guess 'twill come out all right  We have most of the work under contract—one will be let tomorrow and but one or two more after that  I am kept pretty busy  the little questions of all kinds coming up require nearly all my time—we have a pretty large Engnring force—larger than they usually employ on work in the west—still none to many to keep every thing straight

Walt cant you get some tickets on the next great Pacific Rail Road spree12 and come out and see us and if you or I can get the tickets Mat and I will join you and go to the end of the road—would[n't] it be a jolly good time—I suppose they will have a trip or two of that kind this fall

I went a few weeks ago on a little sail up and down the river with a party that were "doing" the "Editors Assotn"13  I was much amused by the style of a large number of them—particularly of the young style—like young Noah14 used to be—fellows that thought that they had to look the newspaper as well as report for one  The speeches were sickening—and the "eat" jolly—the sail splendid  I wish you could have been along—not so much that you might have seen the "eds" but that you might have enjoyed the sail—yet it was'nt the sail to Cony Island by a long ways.

What will be the result so far as you are concerned should Mr Evarts15 be made Atty Gen—will it make your place any less secure? Are your friends in Washington all right as regards their "sits" O'Conner16 and the rest—I suppose the political boiling is really more heard than felt in regard to office holding—I know lost [sic] of fellows in Brook[lyn] (and it is the same with Engineers) that always think they are going to be deprived of office and "clout."

Well Walt I have to stop and go home to dinner—you would be very welcome to go if you only could I can tell you—Mat and the Children would almost love you to-death  The children are growing nicely—Hattie has got so she can read a letter—Jess is still the baby and therefore dont learn or anything else but play—they both grow though quite fast—and will I think go through the hot season without much trouble—

I wish you would write me when you can—a letter way off here is quite an event and highly prized

Give our love to Mother when you write and the same to yourself

Affectionately your Brother Jeff


  • 1. Jeff was so busy at this time that it would be wrong to suggest he was neglecting Walt Whitman. After receiving a letter from Jeff, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman remarked to Walt Whitman on March 11, 1868: "i thought when i read it he must have written it running for i could hardly make it out  he is very busy" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]
  • 2. The only such notice in a Boston paper for this month was Ferdinand Freiligrath's "Walt Whitman" in the Boston Commonwealth, July 4, 1868. Freiligrath claimed that "For his admirers, Whitman is the only American poet, derived from the soil, expressing his age....He makes ordinary verse-making seem childish." Surprisingly, Jeff noted Freiligrath's admiration of Leaves of Grass before Walt Whitman himself, who first mentions it on September 27, 1868 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961-77],2:48). [back]
  • 3. Jeff first noted Mattie's chronic sore throat on February 10, 1863 (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 February 1863), but it was only in 1868 that he began to express deep fears about her condition. For an account of the progress of Mattie's disease, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), pp. 2-4. [back]
  • 4. Edward Ruggles (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 2 April 1863) had died the previous year. [back]
  • 5. On March 1 the Jefferson Whitmans began renting a seven-room house on Olive Street for sixty-five dollars a month (Waldron, p. 50, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, February 12, 1868 [Trent]). [back]
  • 6. Now the Republican nominee for president, Grant arrived in St. Louis on July 7 to visit his wife's parents, the Dents, who lived on a farm outside town. He deliberately avoided public appearances, shrewdly preferring to play the role of the simple soldier while the Democrats politicked in New York. [back]
  • 7. After numerous ballots, the Democrats surprised the nation by nominating Horatio Seymour for president and Francis P. Blair, Jr., for vice-president. [back]
  • 8. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (1808-73) had aspired to be president for many years, and in 1868, though known as a prominent Republican he made a bid to become the nominee of the Democratic party but failed. [back]
  • 9. Andrew Johnson received sixty-five votes on the first ballot; however, after Seymour was nominated, Johnson supported the ticket. [back]
  • 10. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 February 1863. [back]
  • 11. By this time Jeff had completed the settling reservoirs at Bissell's point but still had to construct the pump houses and water intake towers. [back]
  • 12. As part of their promotional schemes to encourage western settlement, railroads such as the Missouri Pacific offered free passes to writers and journalists who agreed to take one of the special excursions over the newest routes. [back]
  • 13. On June 25, 1868, the mayor and city council of St. Louis entertained a group of newspaper editors from Wisconsin and Minnesota by giving them a one-day champagne cruise on the Mississippi steamboat Belle of Alton. Jeff mingled with local politicians, judges, and journalists, including Carl Schurz of the St. Louis Democrat, and he listened to numerous speeches proclaiming the virtues of the city and its illustrious guests (Missouri Republican, June 26, 1868). [back]
  • 14. Probably the son of Mordecai M. ("Major") Noah (1785-1851), a prominent New York editor. Walt Whitman wrote two articles about New Orleans which appeared in the April 2 and May 21, 1848, issues of Noah's Sunday Times (Joseph Jay Rubin, The Historic Whitman [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1973], p. 373). [back]
  • 15. William M. Evarts (1818-1901), Andrew Johnson's brilliant defense attorney in the impeachment proceedings, was rewarded with the appointment to attorney general in 1868. [back]
  • 16. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to William Douglas O'Connor, 16 March 1865. [back]
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