Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 21 January 1886
Date: January 21, 1886
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.03299
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray
January 21, 1886.
I got yours of the 4th instant, written on the back of Kennedy's,1 and meant to have written you long before, as well as after, but have been in a wretched condition with the "misery in my back," as the colored brother calls it. I don't improve in my back and legs as rapidly as I ought, and am nearly as lame and heavy as you are, but keep hoping.
I have wanted to hear how you are, especially your eyes, which you don't mention. The state of your eyes worries me more than anything else about you.
Did you see the enclosed, cut from the Nation, from the great Italian fortnightly? The article must be a splendid one to bear such excerpting by the Nation!2 We tried to get the magazine through Brentano, but failed. It must make these fellows gnash their teeth to see this growing foreign appreciation.—Send the slip back some time when you are writing.
I got a copy of Kennedy's pamphlet3 from him, and but for my bad condition would have written to him, which I will do yet. I cant help feeling that he skates on pretty thin ice sometimes, though he says many things which are quite undeniable.
I had a letter from Grace Channing4 recently in which she says: "By the way, there is in the latest edition of Leaves of Grass a poem—'The City Dead-House'—which affects me I cannot tell you how powerfully. I never saw it before, and I think Walt has never written anything more divinely beautiful. Often as I have read it, I can't keep the tears out of my eyes."
The Channings are all very happy in their new home at Pasadena in California. It appears to be a perfect Paradise
Up to date, the New York publishers have uniformly refused to publish my Baconian reply to R. G. White, even at my expense!5 Reason, Shakespearean hostility to the subject. This is a pretty note! I am now going to try Boston.
The death of Mrs. Gilchrist deeply stirred me.6 I was just about to try to write to her when I saw the news of her decease.
When you next write, tell me how your eyes are. I am really anxious to know.
W. D. O'Connor.
William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889].
2. The excerpt is not extant. Over the years, The Nation had published a number of negative comments on Whitman's poetry, most famously perhaps Henry James's scathing remarks on Drum-Taps (16 November 1865), 625–626. Especially O'Connor had chosen the British periodical as his personal enemy, authoring rebuttals to a number of Nation reviews that he felt misrepresented the poet or his disciples. [back]
3. William Sloane Kennedy's The Poet as Craftsman, a twenty-page pamphlet, was published by David McKay in 1885. [back]
4. Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937) was the niece of William D. O'Connor. After her initial refusal to ever read Whitman's work, Channing became enthralled by the poet's words and even published her own volume of Whitman-inspired poetry titled Sea-Drift in 1899. [back]
5. Hamlet's Note-Book. O'Connor understood his book as a "Baconian reply to R. G. White," a literary critic and scholar, who argued that Shakespeare was not a pseudonym of Francis Bacon but indeed a seperate, historic figure and author. After numerous publishers had declined O'Connor's manuscript, it was finally published in 1886 by Houghton, Mifflin and Company (Boston and New York). [back]
6. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]