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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 11 December 1887

My dear Walt

I received your letter1 the other day—also the papers with the enclosures—and glad I was to hear from you again  Probably as Jess has told you I am poking around from place to place spending about 1/3 of my time on Rail Road trains2—and although it is not as bad as it might be yet I cannot say that I enjoy it much—suppose I would if I was fifteen years younger—but it is as it is3

We are having a bad snow storm here to-day—and I hav'nt been out yet—but I think I will walk over and look at the lake which I suppose is kicking up considerable of a bobbery just about now  The Milwaukee bay is a first rate place to see the waves dash on the shore it being about this shape Jeff Whitman's sketch of the shape of the Milwaukee Bay. Reproduced here from a scan of a photocopy of the original. 4 and when the wind is blowing stiff from the East you can see a wave start in at A and follow it for two or three miles as it passes B—that is except at the points at the mouth of the river or where the projecting piers are. When a fellow feels good it is lots of fun to see them—but just to day I dont feel first class  Kinder lonely—been in too much I suppose—

I am up here engaged in the almost hopeless task of trying to determine what can be done with the sewage of the town. Just now it is all emptied into the river that flows through the city and the deposit has become so great that in the summer it is terribly offensive to those who live along the edge of the river

I shall be here, off and on probably, five or six months—that is if the infernal thing dont worry me to death

I judge from your letter that you are holding your own fairly well—of course we are all getting older and as you say the machine will show wear, never so well may we patch it up. But I feel very much like our old friend Ruggles5 used to say, "we must make the best of it"

I hope, dear Walt, that you will keep in good spirits during the bad weather—I find in my own case that it is the hardest thing I have to combat—I often think that the only fellow that knows how to live is the wild-goose  He makes the world his own and follows the climate he likes—and no question of business can keep him either  Well good by Walt—write me whenever you feel like it  I always want to know how you are

affectionately Jeff


  • 1. Whitman's letter of about December 9 is not extant. [back]
  • 2. Jessie may have given Whitman this information when she visited him in Camden in October 1887 (Walt Whitman: Daybooks and Notebooks, ed. William White [New York: New York University Press, 1978], 439). [back]
  • 3. In May 1887 M. L. Holman succeeded Jeff as water commissioner. Jeff's authority may have been weakened by the resolution adopted on February 18, 1887, by the lower house of the city assembly: "Resolved by the House of Delegates, the Council concurring therein, that the Water Commissioner be informed that the continued practice of furnishing the comsumers of water with a filthy, unsettled substance for the purpose of extracting influence in support of an ordinance to extend the present water system, the the [sic] said extension having for its purpose the perpetuation in office of barnacles whose places can be better filled by just as practical men, who will be glad to do their duty—should they be appointed—is dicountenanced by the Municipal Assembly, and the Water Commissioner is hereby respectfully requested to serve his purpose by means other than those calculated to inconvenience the taxpayers of the city" (Journal of the City Council, February 23, 1887). [back]
  • 4. Jeff's diagram is reproduced about one-quarter size. [back]
  • 5. See the letter from Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman of April 2, 1863. [back]
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