Interviews and Reminiscences

About this Item

Title: Our New York Letter: Jennie June's Weekly Jottings

Creator: Jennie June

Date: March 17, 1877

Whitman Archive ID: med.00620

Source: Baltimore American 17 March 1877: 2. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a clipping in the Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the interviews, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Nic Swiercek, and Shea Montgomerey

image 1






[From Our Own Correspondent.]
NEW YORK,March 16


I informed you last week that Walt Whitman was in town, and the recipient of many hospitalities. Recently I had the singular good fortune of dining with him at the house of "Uncle John," four persons constituted the whole party. I say "singular" good fortune because "Uncle John" is as much of a character as occasion to be remembered, and such as comes but once in a lifetime. Both men look older than they are, for the massive head of on all gray, and the other all white.

"Uncle John is a humanitarian of the broadest type, and neglects no opportunity of entertaining an angel unawares. Some of his proteges are a little rough as to externals, and a lady member of his family wonders why, since water is cheap, they could not occasionally indulge in a wash! "Uncle John" excuses them, however, in a philosophical way. "Water is cheap," he remarks, "but cleanliness is not. These persons, though dingy upon the outside, are refined within. To wash with regularity requires not only water, but something to hold it, soap to make it effective and towels for drying. It also involves the possession of a room devoted to personal use, and of attendance to remove the traces of frequent ablution. All this belongs to a degree of civilization which at present they cannot compass; they understand and appreciate it too well to accept the vulgar substitutes which offer themselves to the vagrant, and so they simply bide their time and, for the present, remain unwashed."

"Walt" Whitman was in his most benignant mood. His large figure loomed up heroically against the background of a comfortable reclining chair, and he talked in an easy, delightful way regarding the new social and political aspects which life had taken on since his banishment from its activities, and seemed to feel very much as if he had gone to sleep ten years ago in New Jersey and had awoke this winter in New York.

He was especially eloquent upon the "woman" question. When he left the United States and went to Canada 1 the war had only just closed, men stood at the front; nothing was talked of but military force, subjection to authority and the necessity of preserving the Union structure intact. Now, social life had taken on quite a new phrase, women had come to the front, they had associated themselves with public interests and activities, the world had become altogether more charming, more delightful. It seemed if men having completed the substance, the form, the solid masonry of our civilization, to women it had been given to do the coping, the pinnacling, the beautifying and crowning of the edifice.

This idea is so strong in him that it will, doubtless, soon find its way into a poem, and complete his poetic philosophy of the Cosmos.

When the time came to separate we divided the roses and the ferns which ornamented the table, and retained them as souvenirs, and Mr. Whitman recited with his old fire some lines from Henry Murger, the French Bohemian poet, called the "Midnight Visitor." They were very sad. No welcome had the poet for Art or Face, but to Death his door flew open wide.

Mr. Whitman leaves this week for Philadelphia, where he spends a part of his time with some English friends, the family of the late Alexander Gilchrist, the biographer of William Blake, the English painter, a barrister at law, and the author of other works. The biography of William Blake was completed by his wife, who wrote a preface, which is said to be the best part of the book, and is said by those who know her to be a model English woman, large, genial, hospitable, refined and endowed with a very high intelligence. The family left England and settled in Philadelphia to give a daughter, who had exhausted the medical teaching London could afford her, the advantages of the medical schools in Philadelphia, where she had already won distinguished honors.


1. The copy that we have used for transcription contains a strike through the word "Canada" and the word "Camden" is written above the paragraph. The phrase "left the United States" is underlined, with an arrow pointing to "Camden." [back]


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