Skip to main content

Henry Wilson to Walt Whitman, 17 January 1867

 loc_vm.01510_large.jpg Mr W. Whitman

I do not know but Ben2 told you that I was in the Lunatic Asylum3 during the time that himself John & Charley4 were recieving​ hard knocks for Uncle Sam & his dimes. Well, I do not regret the 15 months that I spent there in two installments.

Oh! what a sad lesson I learned there of young America.

A line in Leaves of Grass led me to think that you was the very man to get him out of the Scrape, or at least to show him his danger, of which he seemed quite ignorant. In the Asylum I saw "living bodys" that had been so sadly defiled by forcing semon​ thro' the hand as to retain but little of the human.


More than half the pacients​ in the institution, are there from this cause, And half of the other half from dodging the noblist​ work of man, because of the expense of raising children, and other imaginary trobles​ , or as I once heard a young Baptist deacon Say—"I won't have my pretty wife all tore to pieces having young-ones." Mad as they are in the Asylum, this is greater madness. Could not the coming young America be induced to do this noblest work manfully & womanly if benevolent liberals were to form themselves into a Society for the purpose of taking naked infants from their mothers bring them up naked, and marry them at the age of about eight years bringing all Science & all human power to their right mating or pairing.


Ha! my dear friend, there is no investment that will pay like this. Do you See it? If not there is only God & I that sees it.

If you do I know what youd​ do. I will not ask you to reply to this, tho' nothing could afford me more pleasure. But I have no right to take what, but for me, would fall to the Soldier boys

Henry Wilson father of B H Wilson 185 regt

P.S. In looking over if find I have rather neglected female young America in my Asylum remarks; Altho' she has no semon​ she suffers just as much by quite as prevalent habits as her Brother.

H. W

P.S. And I do not mean to say  loc_vm.01513_large.jpg that all are young who practice it, they are of all ages in the Asylum up to eighty years; But I think the habit must have been formed in youth.

HW  loc_vm.01508_large.jpg Henry Wilson of Lunatic Asylum Jan 17, 1867.  loc_vm.01509_large.jpg

Henry Wilson (1805–1870) was the father of Benton H. Wilson—a former U. S. Civil War soldier and one of Whitman's correspondents (for Benton Wilson, see Whitman's letters of April 12, 1867, and April 15, 1870). On May 15, 1870, Wilson informed Whitman of his father's death two weeks earlier; Benton's father, who "was insane at times," had written to Whitman on January 17, 1867, and on March 30, 1868.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Mr Walt Whitman | Atorny Generals Office | Washington | Dis Clom. It is postmarked: SYRACUSE | JAN | 18 | 67; CARRIER | JAN | 20 | 1867 | 7 P.M. [back]
  • 2. Benton H. Wilson (1843–1914?) was the son of Henry Wilson (1805–1870)—a harness and trunk maker—and Ann S. Williams Wilson (1809–1887). Benton Wilson was a U. S. Civil War soldier recovering in Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., when he met Whitman. Later, Wilson was employed selling melodeons and sewing machines. He also sold life insurance and may have worked as a pawnbroker. He married Nellie Gage Morrell Wilson (ca. 1841–1892). Nellie had two children, Lewis and Eva Morrell, from a previous marriage, and she and Benton were the parents of five children. Wilson named his first child "Walter Whitman Wilson," after the poet; their other children were Austin, Irene, Georgie, and Kathleen Wilson. Benton Wilson's correspondence with Whitman spanned a decade, lasting from 1865 to 1875. [back]
  • 3. See Benton H. Wilson's February 24, 1868, letter to Whitman, in which Wilson writes about his father's time at the Utica Asylum. [back]
  • 4. Wilson is referring to his sons Charles F. Wilson (1847–1918) and Joseph C. Wilson (1851–1930). Charles and Joseph are the brothers of Benton H. Wilson (1843–1914?). Like Benton, Charles was also a Union soldier in the U. S. Civil War. [back]
Back to top