Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 25 July 1888

Date: July 25, 1888

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.03325

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Washington, D.C.
Life Saving Service,
July 25, 1888

Dear Walt:

I got your card of the 19th, (last Thursday's) and was greatly cheered and comforted thereby—the hand writing was so bold and vigorous. I had been feeling depressed and sorrowful—perhaps my own bad state had something to do with it; but anyhow, the brave hand-writing was like Chevy Chace1 to Sidney, "stirring my heart as with the sound of a trumpet." Since, I saw an item in a paper reporting you better, and am much encouraged. Strong hope is like strong prayer, and I shall hope for you strongly.

I have sent the "Today" to Dr. Bucke.2 The article was pleasing.

One of the Transcripts you sent, had a characteristic speech by Littlebill Winter.3 He is certainly the winter of my discontent mentioned by Lord Bacon4 in his play of Richard III. Small beast! It makes me sad to think how the Devil will suffer when he gets him. For spite of his faults, the prince of darkness is a gentleman, and how can he endure such company!

I hear from Bucke pretty often. He is surely a saint.

We had had heavenly weather until yesterday, which was a swelterer. But today is good again.

I have been overrun this week, but held back the flying hour by the hair today, just to send you this note.

I had a nice letter this morning from Mr. Traubel,5 to whom I will write soon.

I hope this will find you comfortable. Au revoir.

Always affectionately
W.D. O'Connor

Walt Whitman.


Correspondent:
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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. "The Ballad of Chevy Chase," a popular ancient oral ballad about a battle brought on by an English nobleman leading a large hunting party onto Scottish land in the Cheviot Hills, was praised by the English poet Philip Sidney (1554–1586). [back]

2. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Writer and theater critic William Winter (1836–1917) knew Whitman at Pfaff's beer cellar, and over the years Whitman increasingly considered him an antagonist; late in his life, Whitman commented: "Some of my enemies are malignants—for instance, Littlebill Winter, as O'Connor calls him, . . . and others of that stripe—violently on the other side—Winter especially—Winter, who is a little man in all ways: little in body, little in soul, little in spirit—a dried-up cadaverous school-master who flourishes his nasty doctrines threateningly over the heads of the anointed." See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888 [back]

4. O'Connor was a believer in the so-called "Baconian theory." Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was an English philosopher, scientist, statesman, and author. Bacon's personal notebooks and works came under scrutiny during the nineteenth-century because of suspicions that he had written plays under the pen-name William Shakespeare in order to protect his political office from material some might find objectionable. For more on the Baconian theory, see Henry William Smith, Was Lord Bacon The Author of Shakespeare's Plays?: A Letter to Lord Ellesmere (London: William Skeffington, 1856). [back]

5. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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