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Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch, 8 October 1863

Dear Hugo.1

I don't know why I have delayed so long as a month to write to you, for your affectionate & lively letter of September 5th gave me as much pleasure as I ever received from correspondence—I read it even yet & have taken the liberty to show it to one or two persons I knew would be interested. Dear comrade, you must be assured that my heart is much with you in New York, & with my other dear friends, your associates—&, my dear, I wish you to excuse me to Fred Gray, & to Perk, & Ben Knower, for not yet writing to them, also to Charley Kingsley, should you see him—I am contemplating a tremendous letter to my dear comrade Frederickus, which will make up for deficiencies—my own comrade Fred, how I should like to see him & have a good heart's time with him, & a mild orgie, just for a basis, you know, for talk & interchange of reminiscences & the play of the quiet lambent electricity of real friendship—O Hugo, as my pen glides along writing these thoughts, I feel as if I could not delay coming right off to New York & seeing you all, you & Fred & Bloom, & every body—I want to see you, to be within hand's reach of you, & hear your voices, even if only for one evening, for only three hours—I want to hear Perk's fiddle—I want to hear Perk himself, (& I will humbly submit to drink to the Church of England)—I want to be with Bloom, (that wretched young man who I hear continually adorns himself outwardly, but I hear nothing of the interior &c)2 & I want to see Charley Russell, & if [when?] he is in N. Y. you see him I wish you to say that I sent him my love, particular, & that he & Fred & Charles Chauncey remain a group of itself in the portrait-gallery of my heart & mind yet & forever—for so it happened for our dear times, when we first got acquainted, (we recked not of them as they passed,) were so good, so hearty, those friendship-times, our talk, our knitting together, it may be a whim, but I think nothing could be better or quieter & more happy of the kind—& is there any better kind in life's experiences?

Dear comrade, I still live here as a hospital missionary after my own style, & on my own hook—I go every day or night without fail to some of the great government hospitals—O the sad scenes I witness—scenes of death, anguish, the fevers, amputations, friendlessness, of hungering & thirsting young hearts, for some loving presence—such noble young men as some of these wounded are—such endurance, such native decorum, such candor—I will confess to you, dear Hugo, that in some respects I find myself in my element amid these scenes—shall I not say to you that I find I supply often to some of these dear suffering boys in my presence & magnetism that which nor doctors nor medicines nor skill nor any routine assistance can give?

Dear Hugo, you must write to me often as you can, & not delay it, your letters are very dear to me. Did you see my newspaper letter in N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4? About my dear comrade Bloom, is he still out in Pleasant Valley? Does he meet you often? Do you & the fellows meet at Gray's or any where? O Hugo, I wish I could hear with you the current opera—I saw Devereux3 in the N Y papers of Monday announced for that night, & I knew in all probability you would be there—tell me how it goes, and about the principal singers—only dont run away with that theme, & occupy too much of your letter with it—but tell me mainly about all my dear friends, & every little personal item, & what you all do, & say &c.

I am excellent well. I have cut my beard short, & hair ditto: (all my acquaintances are in anger & despair & go about wringing their hands). My face is all tanned & red. If the weather is moist or has been lately, or looks as if it thought of going to be, I perambulate this land in big army boots outside & up to my knees. Then around my majestic brow, around my well-brimmed felt hat—a black & gold cord with acorns. Altogether the effect is satisfactory. The guards as I enter or pass places often salute me. All of which I tell, as you will of course take pride in your friend's special & expanding glory.

Fritschy, I am writing this in Major Hapgood's office, fifth story, by a window that overlooks all down the city, & over & down the beautiful Potomac, & far across the hills & shores for many a mile. We have had superb weather lately, yes for a month—it has just rained, so the dust is provided for, (that is the only thing I dread in Washington, the dust, I dont mind the mud). It is now between one & two o'clock Thursday afternoon. I am much alone in this pleasant far-up room, as Major is absent sick, & the clerk lays off a good deal. From three to five hours a day or night I go regularly among the sick, wounded, dying young men. I am enabled to give them things, food &c. There are very few visitors, amateurs, now. It has become an old story. The suffering ones cling to me, poor children, very close. I think of coming to New York quite soon to stay perhaps three weeks, then sure return here.4


  • 1. For accounts of these New York friends, see Whitman's letters from March 19–20, 1863 and August 7, 1863 . After Horace Traubel read this letter on January 20, 1889, Whitman observed: "I was always between two loves at that time: I wanted to be in New York, I had to be in Washington: I was never in the one place but I was restless for the other: my heart was distracted" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:581). [back]
  • 2. Evidently Whitman enjoyed this witticism; see his letter from August 7, 1863 . [back]
  • 3. Maretzek opened his operatic season on October 5, 1863, with a performance of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux. [back]
  • 4. Endorsed (by Walt Whitman): "To Hugo | Oct 8 '63." [back]
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