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John Swinton to Walt Whitman, 24 April 1876

 loc_gt.00281_large.jpg My dear Walt—

Please send 3 sets on account of my list of 5. Let 1 set be directed to me, and the others to John Russell Young,1 Herald office, who has written me to get a set for him, and with whom you will please communication about the mater​ .

As you may be interested in his note, I enclose it for you to look at—after which, please return.

Yours John Swinton (over)  loc_gt.00282_large.jpg

PS. I have just replied to Young, telling him you will forward him the set, and receive his subscription therefor.


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. John Russell Young (1841–1899) was a noted journalist in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. A Pennsylvania native, he began writing at the Philadelphia Press at age seventeen and was named a managing editor in 1862. After serving as a war journalist during the Civil War, he moved to New York in 1865 to work at the New York Tribune, which he edited from 1866 to 1868. In 1870 he established his own newspaper, the New York Standard. In 1877, he was invited to accompany President Ulysses S. Grant on a world tour; Young published Around the World with General Grant, a two-volume account of the tour, in 1879. Young's knowledge of the Chinese language earned him the position of the American ambassador to China from 1882 to 1885. He became the seventh Librarian of Congress in 1897 and served until his death. In Men and Memories (New York, F. Tennyson Neely, 1901), a posthumous collection of Young's personal reminiscences, his editor and wife, May Dow Russell Young writes: "A deep and genuine affection existed between Walt Whitman and John Russell Young, the result of many years' acquaintance and profound admiration" (76). The collection includes Young's account of reading the first edition of  Leaves of Grass and later meeting Whitman in Washington, D.C. (76–109). For more information, see John C. Broderick, "John Russell Young: The Internationalist as Librarian," Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 33 (April 1976), 116–149. [back]
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