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Walt Whitman to Thomas Nicholson, 14 October [1880]

 yal.00114.001_large.jpg Dear Tom3

I got home all safe—We stopped a day & a night at Niagara & had a first rate time—Started the next morning early in an easy comfortable palace car & went on like a streak through New York and Pennsylvania—got into Philadelphia after 11 at night—(we were an hour late,)—but the city looked bright & all alive, & I felt as fresh as a lark—

I am well, my summer in Canada has done me great good—it is not only the fine country & climate there, but I found such good friends, good quarters, good grub, & every thing that could make a man happy—


The last five days I have been down on a jaunt to the sea-shore4—got back last night—It is a great change from the beautiful grass and spacious lawns there around the Asylum—for miles as far as the eye can reach nothing but flat gray sand & the sea rolling in—& then looking off at sea, always ships or steamers in sight out in the offing—I sat hours enjoying it, for it suits me—I was born & brought up near the Sea, & I could listen forever to the hoarse music of the surf—Tom I got your paper & handbill—good for you, boy—believe me I was pleased to know you won—best respects to Tom Bradley, Batters and Dick Flynn & O'Connor5—show them this letter—also Canuth6—write to me—I hope you practice & write as I told you

Walt Whitman  yal.00114.003_large.jpg  yal.00114.004_large.jpg


  • 1. This letter bears the address: Thomas Nichelson | Asylum for the Insane | London | Ontario Canada. It is postmarked: (?) | Oct | 15 | N.J.; London | Oc 16 | 80 | Ont. [back]
  • 2. Written in red on the letter in an unknown hand is the date: "1880." Written on the envelope is the date: "Oct 14 1880." [back]
  • 3. Whitman noted sending this letter in his Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Nicholson, who was twenty-one, was an attendant in Dr. Richard Bucke's asylum from April 12, 1880, to September 14, 1882. In his only extant letter to the poet, on December 6, 1881, Nicholson urged Whitman to come to London, Ontario: "Every body loves you, and you wount be no Stranger this Time." Perhaps Nicholson, or one of his friends, is referred to in the following description in Edmund Gosse's Critical Kit-Kats: "The other . . . was a photograph of a very handsome young man in a boat, sculling. . . . He explained . . . that this was one of his greatest friends, a professional oarsman from Canada, a well-known sporting character" ([London: William Heinemann, 1896], 104–105). [back]
  • 4. According to his Commonplace Book, Whitman was with the Staffords from October 9 to 13, not at the seashore, unless he was with Harry in Atlantic City. [back]
  • 5. These young men, like Nicholson, were employees in Richard Bucke's hospital. Thomas Bradley, age 23, served at the asylum from September 6, 1876, to April 30, 1877, when he was discharged. He rejoined the staff on June 1, 1877, and was employed until April 30, 1882, holding such positions as mail driver, assistant baker, and messenger. He again returned to the asylum on July 1, 1882, only to resign three months later. Edward Batters, who was 42, worked at the hospital in 1873 and 1874, until he was discharged. He was rehired in 1875 and remained until March 31, 1881, at which time he was a supervisor. Richard Flynn, age 24, was employed from 1875 to 1885, working as a messenger, a gardener, a night watchman, and a stoker. Henry O'Connor, age 22, was an attendant from August 15, 1879, until he was discharged on November 12, 1880 (Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 3:190–191 n57). [back]
  • 6. Probably Whitman referred to Gomley Canniff, an eighteen-year-old attendant, who worked at the asylum from January 1 to November 30, 1880. [back]
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