A LOVE LETTER FROM “FATHER WHITMAN” TO A CIVIL WAR SOLDIER.
A rare and significant letter to one of the young soldiers Whitman aided at a military hospital during the Civil War. Whitman corresponded with Pratt for some 8 years, beginning after Pratt’s hospitalization in 1865.
Whitman’s letter is a response to Pratt’s own of May 9, 1869, in which Pratt asks why he has not heard from Whitman (despite having sent several letters to him) and in which Pratt gives report of his health. Pratt’s letter, which is addressed to “Father Whitman,“ essentially affirms that Whitman saved his life in 1865: “had it not been for that smiling countenace [of yours] I should have been no more“.
Whitman’s letter in response to Pratt’s letter was initially dated “June 28, 1869“ and subsequently revised by Whitman to July 1. In his letter Whitman gives brief report of his life and affectionately affirms “Dear boy I would like to see you, that we might be together once more, even if but for a little while“ (a sentiment which Whitman subsequently re-stated and crossed-out in a later part of this draft letter: “I would like very much if we could be together again“). In the version of this letter which Whitman actually sent, Whitman conclusively reaffirmed his affection in signing off with the statement “Good bye, my loving boy” – a statement which Whitman here tentatively sketches mid-letter in writing “Good bye Alfred dear loving young man."
Whitman acted as a hospital aid to wounded soldiers for some three years during the Civil War. A direct and brutal confrontation with death and disease, Whitman found his DC hospital experiences salvational – revitalizing both his emotions and his pen, both of which he felt had grown stagnant in New York City. Whitman is known to have corresponded with some dozen or more young men from his time as a hospital aid. As Pratt’s mode of addressing Whitman – “Father Whitman“ – here evidences, Whitman became a paternal figure – and perhaps more -- for many of the young men he nursed.
The finished July 1 version of this letter is to be found in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman at the Library of Congress. The large bulk of Whitman’s hospital-related correspondence is in fact in the Feinberg Collection, and very few examples of such correspondence are to be found in any other collection institutional or private.
Though Whitman is known to have made (and revised) drafts of his poetry, it is very uncommon to see the draft of a Whitman letter – Whitman for the most part wrote his correspondence extemporaneously. Whitman letters such as the present superbly reveal Whitman’s magnanimous and loving nature, and are very rare in commerce. Pratt’s May 9 letter to Whitman is unrecorded and unpublished.
Autograph Letter to Alfred Pratt, Unsigned and Undated, being an Unsent Draft of Whitman’s letter to Pratt dated July 1, 1869. [TOGETHER WITH] Alfred Pratt’s autograph letter to Whitman, May 9, 1869. [Whitman Letter]. Washington, D.C., June 28 - July 1, 1869. One sheet folded to make 4 pp.; 8x5 in.; 203 x 127 mm (each page); sheet 8x10 in. On Whitman’s Attorney General’s Office, Washington, D.C. letterhead. [Pratt Letter]. Williamson Wayne Co., N.Y., May 1, 1869. 2 pp.; 7 7/8 x 5 in; 200 x 127 mm. On N.Y. Military State Agency stationery. With original envelope addressed to Whitman (at the Attorney General’s Office), postmarked May 10, 1869. Both with expected folds; excellent condition. Housed in custom presentation folder.
The letter from Alfred Pratt dated May 9, 1869 to Whitman reads:
Dear Father Whitman,
I have faith to beleive (sic) that you're a live yet and I should like to Hear from you. I have wrote to you Two or three times but have yet received an answer. if I have offended you In any way in any letters I am very sory [sic] and ask your forgiveness. I should like to see you and that kind and loving fxxxx xxx xxxxx it rxxxx and much pleasure in seeing it when you came to visit me when I was in the hospital. had it not been for that smiling countenance I should have been no more. If you are alive and well I hope to see your face once more this side of the grave if it be gods [sic] will.
Now Father Whitman I will tell you. That this winter I had the misfortune to get my arm broken and soon afterwards my wrist mis Placed and it has not got strong yet. I don’t think of much that would interest you out here in the country. I hope you will xxxx excuse me for taking [sic] this small xxx of paper for I had no other handy I am well and hxxx and hope this may find you in as good condition . no more at present.
The letter from Walt Whitman to Alfred Pratt dated July 1, 1869 reads:
Dear Alfred Pratt,
I am still in here in Washington, & work in the same office. My health is good, and there is nothing specially new or important with me since I wrote last. Dear boy I would like to see you, that we might be together once more, even if but for a little while. I have thought I would try to journey out your way, for a few days, but it don't seem likely just at present. Dear boy I hope you are well,--you must write me a good long letter all about yourself & your affairs.--I send you my love, & to your parents also--Tell them I hope yet to meet them some time...I too have not forgotten those times when you lay sick in the hospital--& our love for each other--such things are not easily forgotten--Some day I will come out there, & we will see each other again..
Price: $20,000 .