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William A. Hawley to Walt Whitman, 10 August 1869

My Dear Walt.

You do not know me—have never heard of me even—yet you have done more for me than all others.

Born and bred in the midst of Puritanical orthodoxy I was early entombed in the church and never had a breath of the pure, free air of heaven till I was thirty-five years old. Swedenborg1 first opened the sepulchre and let in the heavenly light so that I saw myself a living soul, but it remained for you to breathe upon the dry bones and make them live. To you alone I owe the discovery that "Divine am I inside and out"2—that the "body is not less sacred than the soul."

Hours of depression come even upon you. This I know. Therefore, perhaps, it may cheer you in some such hour to know how you have lifted up and made happy a brother. This is my apology for this intrusion.

I would I could grasp your hand, look in your eyes and have you look in mine. Then you should see how much you have done for me.

Yours with a brother's love William A. Hawley

This is apparently Dr. William A. Hawley's first letter to Whitman. An October 24, 1888 letter from Whitman, with which Whitman sent Hawley one of his books, is not extant; neither is a letter that Whitman sent on February 6, 1890, according to his notebooks.


  • 1. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a Swedish theologian and mystic who claimed himself as a divinely inspired Christian reformer, rejecting the concepts of the Trinity and salvation through faith alone. Swedenborg is best known for his 1758 book Heaven and Hell, in which he describes his vision of the afterlife as divided into three parts: Heaven, Hell, and a middle World of Spirits, where the recently deceased first awaken into the afterlife. Swedenborgians established the New Church in England after Swedenborg's death, a movement that spread to the U.S. in the early nineteenth century. [back]
  • 2. Hawley is quoting from Whitman's most famous poem, ultimately titled "Song of Myself" (section 24 of the final version of Leaves of Grass). [back]
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