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Walt Whitman to Harry Stafford, 28 May [1879]

Dear Son

Your letter dated 27th has reached me here, & glad to get it—glad to hear you are having such good health this summer—as to that spell you speak of, no doubt it was the devilish lemonade & cake—I always told you you was too heedless in the eating & drinking, (sometimes going without too long, &c)—(I tell you what, Harry, it is the stomach, belly & liver that make the principal foundation of all feeling well—with one other thing)—

The little piece "Will it Happen"? is real good—stick away at it, dear son—write little pieces of your thoughts, or what you see, off-hand, at the time—(that always puts life into 'em)—Keep pegging away1

Day before yesterday I spent aboard the great ship Minnesota, (big enough for a thousand people)—it was all very enjoyable—the officers all my friends right off—I took dinner with them at a big table in what they call the Ward Room—Some splendid young fellows—some jolly old roosters—lots of fun, yarns &c—every thing good to eat, & plenty of it—What I liked best though was rowing in the boat to & from the ship, man-of-war fashion—(In my last letter in Tribune you will see a ¶ about the Minnesota, my first visit)2

I got a letter from my sister yesterday from Camden—all as usual there—Mrs Gilchrist was there last Saturday, she said—I suppose Herbert is still with you—I rec'd​ his letter—he seemed to be having royal times there—Beatrice G[ilchrist] is here—she called on me here—Hank, you speak about my not writing oftener—this is the third letter3 I have written to you from here, & papers three or four times—Yours of yesterday is the second rec'd​ here from you—let them read this letter if they care to—I shall probably be back last of next week—come up, my darling boy—

Your old W W

John Burroughs was here last evening—went home this morning—I go about middling—take things very easy—am as well as usual—(have some sort o' bad spells, still)—am all tann'd & red—wear my gray clothes, (my new suit, pretty good yet)—Al and May4 are well, have grown well & finely, (we three pass a good deal of the time together, as we all like each other first rate)—

Mr and Mrs Johnston are now away for some days on account of the death of the latters father, Monday last—wish'd me particular to stay till they returned—I have lots of visitors—some every day—quite a good many ladies—invitations, dinner parties &c (seldom go to them though)—All good for a change, & a little excitement—but I wish I was with you this minute, down by the creek or off in the woods somewhere—I have been here now away since April 9 & every thing & every body has been so loving & kind—I have been happy in it all—& yet, Harry, my heart & wishes turn to my old friends, (& to old Jersey)—weather fine nearly all the time—I go out in Central Park frequently—Harry, give Herbert this enclosed slip5


  • 1. Harry occasionally wrote short compositions as exercises in penmanship and writing which he submitted to Whitman for criticism. [back]
  • 2. See Specimen Days, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 201–202. [back]
  • 3. Only two letters are extant (see the letter from Whitman to Harry Stafford of May 13, 1879). Harry's letters are apparently lost. [back]
  • 4. Two of the children of John H. Johnston. [back]
  • 5. See the note from Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist of May 28, 1879. [back]
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