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Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber to Walt Whitman, 10 December 1863

My dear sir—

I1 went to the hospital in Pemberton Square yesterday and saw your friend Babbitt.2 I found him in a bad way. For two months, he tells me, he has been unable to do any thing for himself on account of giddiness if he attempts to rise. He therefor is confined to one position—poor fellow!—flat on his back, but is cheerful nevertheless, and on hearing your name he brightened up and gave me a warm welcome. He was in Barre some time after his return from under your care, and among his friends he grew better—was able to go about; but the ride—some sixty miles, I think—so unsettled his nervous organization that for three weeks it seemed to him that he was still on the cars. He has not sat up since. He was very grateful for your interest, and his last words to me were—"tell him to write to me." He cannot speak a loud word owing to his diseased throat. He looks pretty well, however, and his hand was strong and honest when I shook it at parting. His case I think a very painful one—how much harder than though he had gone into the battle and lost his life or a limb! There seems a sort of hopelessness about this, and being unused to hospitals my feelings were far from cheerful, though I tried to say brave and encouraging things to him and uttered the customary platitudes—the "Be thou clothed" and "Be thou fed" formulas,—without giving a rag or a crumb else. I asked if I could do anything for him. He told me no, thanking me. His thought seemed most on getting a letter from you.

If you are in the Armory Hospital and inquire for Frank McDonald, Ward E., I believe you may say a kind word to a friend of mine.

Hoping what I have written may interest you, I remain with much regard

Yours B.P. Shillaber


  • 1. Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber (1814–1890) was a celebrated humorist and newspaperman. While he was with the Boston Post, he invented the American version of Mrs. Malaprop, and The Life and Sayings of Mrs. Partington (New York: J.C. Derby, 1854) was a best-seller. John Townsend Trowbridge was associated with Shillaber in the short-lived comic journal Carpet Bag, in which appeared the first writings of Artemus Ward and Mark Twain. Shillaber wrote to Whitman about Babbitt on December 14, 1863 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961), 2:96–97). See Trowbridge, My Own Story, with recollections of noted persons (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903), 179–182; and Cyril Clemens, "Benjamin Shillaber and His 'Carpet Bag,' " New England Quarterly, 14 (1941): 519–537. [back]
  • 2. As Whitman informed Mrs. Curtis in a October 28, 1863, Caleb Babbitt suffered a sun stroke in July and was admitted to Armory Square Hospital. According to the "Hospital Note Book" (Henry E. Huntington Library), Babbitt had been in Mobile, Alabama, earlier. About August 1, 1863, he left Washington on furlough. On August 18, 1863, Caleb's sister, Mary A. Babbitt informed Whitman of Caleb's arrival in Barre, Massachusetts; because of his exhaustion he was unable to write. On September 18, 1863, at the expiration of his forty-day furlough, Caleb was strong enough to write: "Walt—In your letters you wish me to imagine you talking with me when I read them, well I do, and it does very well to think about, but it is nothing compared with the original." On October 18, 1863, Babbitt was depressed—"dark clouds seem to be lying in my pathway and I can not remove them nor hide them from my mind"—until he mentioned his beloved, Nellie F. Clark, who "has saved me." On October 26, 1863, S. H. Childs wrote for Caleb from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston: "He Is unable to set up & suffers considerable pain In his head." See also Whitman's letters from December 27, 1863, and February 8, 1864. [back]
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