Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 17 March 1883
Date: March 17, 1883
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, ed. Sculley Bradley (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 4:354–56. 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.05678
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Nicole Gray
March 17, 1883.
I just have your letter of the 16th instant. What must be, must; and of course if the printer wants it so, but mainly because you request it, I accede to the names of books being left as they were set, and not italicized, though I must say the italicizing of such titles has a great artistic charm for me, and I like to reserve quotation marks strictly for quoted matter.
About the other thing—the paragraphic breaks—I am a good deal more reluctant. I wish I might be indulged in this. The composition is so fiery—moves on so—so sweeps the reader along "like a rushing mighty wind" that he needs no paragraphing aid to buoy up interest; and besides the proposed paragraphs really break this rushing continuity and hurt the effect: the paragraphs in the pamphlet being only put at changes of phase in the subject. In one portion of the pamphlet as reset, I am settled that the proposed paragraphing would be simply horrible: I mean the long enumeration of the great books. It becomes ponderous if broken up into paragraphs, and is saved by the rush from sentence to sentence, without pause.
I think, Walt, that the paragraphs in both the Introductory and the G.G.P., had better be let remain as I have fixed them, and I hope the printer will concede this. Don't you know that it is a printer's vice—quite modern, too—to break up everything into scrappy paragraphs, with subheadings, &c.? The effect of my second letter in your behalf—the reply to Chadwick—was seriously marred by this sub-captioning, and I wrote a letter to Whitelaw Reid begging him not to do it any more to any other of my communications. The modern French books are often seriously injured by this excessive paragraphing, which gives an indescribable staccato, dislocated, jerky, hop-skip-and-jump effect to compositions full of intrinsic sobriety. I love better the grand old Aldine manners of the books of former days.
I hope, therefore, my paragraphing may be permitted by the benignant printer.
I was horrified to learn that my footnote about Lowell was set as per copy. It is surprising that Bucke should have taken the liberty of altering words for which I am responsible. The note, I guess, will have to stand as it is, for I am at the disadvantage of having left my annotated copy of the pamphlet at Washington, and cannot now precisely remember the phrasing of the note. It began something like—"'Sad pleasure,' because mingled (or words to this effect) with the sense of an act of signal meanness." The note, you see, explained the paradox of the phrase, "sad pleasure," and then kicked Lowell all around his os coccyx with the concise energy of that good animal, the mule. I am sorry it is altered, but it will do as it stands, and I cannot supply the original until I get back to Washington. But Bucke ought to have been ashamed to have done such a thing. Stupid in him, too.
Do let me have a revise. I will return it instanter. My name is Promptness. Good printer-man, thou, too, be not obdurate, but grant me a revise!
I hope when the book comes out that you can arrange that I may have some copies at wholesale prices. I can put some where they will do good to all concerned.
Have you seen the last edition of Dana's Household Book of Poetry? It is really cheering. The section entitled Poems of Nature has for an epigraph the whole of your "O vast rondure swimming in space"—a conspicuous honor, of course, and several of your poems appear in the body of the collection. This is significant. There has been a change.
I am rummaging my memory for an epigraph for the appendix, as you requested. Nothing has turned up yet, but something will.
I never was so taken with anything as with Bucke's epigraph from Lucretius. I hope to heaven that he has not abandoned it. It should appear in Latin on the title page, with a translation in English prose set in brackets [ ] directly under it. It is ineffably felicitous and apropos. Even the "barbaric yawp" is tallied by the Latin words describing the poetic style of Empedocles. It is a big thing.
I write with a dreadful pen and bad ink. The day is bad here, windy, dusty, raw, bleak, a genuine St. Patrick's.
W. D. O'Connor