User menu


Chauncey, Charles (1838-1863)

Little is known about the specific details of Charles Chauncey’s early life. We know that, along with Walt Whitman, he was one of several men who made up the Fred Gray Association, "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (Folsom and Price Re-Scripting 62). Stephanie Blalock, when describing the Fred Gray Association, lists Chauncey as one of the many members of the group that were later included in Whitman’s memory book (179). From Blalock we also know that Chauncey was “the son of a New York merchant” who “shared many private moments, especially when” he and Whitman “took long walks” together (181-2). As with the other members of the Fred Gray Association, each member, though having their own educational and professional pursuits, were drawn together by their mutual attraction “to the literary fame of Pfaff’s” (179). Blalock situates the Association’s visits to Pfaff’s during a time when the beer cellar’s “reputation as the ‘trysting-place’ of the American bohemians” (179). So, if not much is known biographically about Chauncey, we know, at least, that he was an attendee of Pfaff’s with Whitman and the rest of the Association.

The bond between Chauncey and Whitman must have been strong as the poet wrote at length to Hugo Fritsch about his mourning of the young man’s passing. Walt Whitman's letter to Fritsch about Chauncey's death in 1863 also offers the only available description of Chauncey: "Dear friend, the same evening I rec'd your letter, I saw in the New York papers (which get here about 5 every evening) the announcement of Charles Chauncey's death. When I went up to my room that night towards 11 I took a seat by the open window in the splendid soft moonlit night, and, there alone by myself, (as is my custom sometimes under such circumstances), I devoted to the dead boy the silent cheerful tribute of an hour or so of floating thought about him, & whatever rose up from the thought of him, & his looks, his handsome face, his hilarious fresh ways, his sunny smile, his voice, his blonde hair, his talk, his caprices--the way he & I first met--how we spoke together impromptu, no introduction--then our easy falling into intimacy--he with his affectionate heart thought so well of me, & I loved him then, & love him now--I thought over our meetings together, our drinks & groups so friendly, our suppers with Fred & Charley Russell &c. off by ourselves at some table at Paff's [sic] off the other end--O how charming those early times, adjusting our friendship, I to the three others, although it needed little adjustment--for I believe we all loved each other more than we supposed--Chauncey was frequently the life & soul of these gatherings--was full of sparkle, & so good, really witty--then for an exception he would have a mood come upon him & right after the outset of our party, he would grow still & cloudy & up & unaccountably depart--but these were seldom, then I got to having occasionally quite a long walk with him, only us two, & then he would talk well & freely about himself, his experiences, feelings, quite confidential, &c." (Whitman August 7, 1863).