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Walt Whitman to John Townsend Trowbridge, 27 December 1863

Dear friend,1

I have left word at the office Armory Square hospital about Caleb Babbitt's descriptive list.2 Poor boy, I should like much to see him & soothe him—I hope he will yet keep up his spirits. About the package of books, direct them to me, (if you should find convenient to send them) to Washington, 456 Sixth St north, 3d story back room—Should you see Mr. Shillaber3 tell him I see Frank McDonald every day or so—I saw him last evening, saw his wound and examined it—he still lies constantly in bed—The wound is not in a very favorable way, yet nothing really serious—Mr. S must write and send papers to him &c, often as convenient—I am well & in hospitals every day—So, dear friend, good bye for present—

Walt Whitman.

Address care Major Hapgood, paymaster U. S. A., Washington D. C.


  • 1. John Townsend Trowbridge was a novelist, poet, author of juvenile stories, and antislavery reformer. Though Trowbridge became familiar with Whitman's poetry in 1855, he did not meet Whitman until 1860 when the poet was in Boston overseeing the Thayer and Eldridge edition of Leaves of Grass. He again met Whitman in Washington in 1863, when Trowbridge stayed with Secretary Chase in order to gather material for his biography, The Ferry Boy and the Financier (Boston: Walker and Wise, 1864); he described their meetings in My Own Story, with recollections of noted persons (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1903), 360–401. On December 11, Trowbridge had presented to Chase Emerson's letter recommending Whitman; see the letter from January 10, 1863 . Though Trowbridge was not an idolator of Whitman, he wrote to O'Connor in 1867: "Every year confirms my earliest impression, that no book has approached the power and greatness of this book, since the Lear and Hamlet of Shakespeare" (Rufus A. Coleman, "Trowbridge and O'Connor," American Literature, 23 [1951–52], 327). For Whitman's high opinion of Trowbridge, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:506. See also Coleman, "Trowbridge and Whitman," Publications of the Modern Language Association of America [PMLA], 63 (1948): 262–273. For several weeks in 1863, Trowbridge stayed with Whitman in Washington, D.C., along with John Burroughs and William D. O'Connor. [back]
  • 2. At Whitman's request, Trowbridge visited Babbitt (see Whitman's letter from September 3, 1863) in Mason Hospital, and wrote on December 21, 1863, that his discharge was delayed because of Dr. Bliss's failure to send a descriptive list. "What [Babbitt] needs is sympathizing friends around him. He is very lonesome lying here on his back, with no Walt Whitman to cheer him up." Trowbridge's letter of December 30, 1863, informed Walt Whitman that the descriptive list had arrived, and that the package contained two copies of The Drummer Boy, a Story of the War in Verse (1862) by "Cousin John," one of which "I wish you would leave at Mr. Chase's" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 9 vols., 4:290). [back]
  • 3. 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]
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