Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 1 April 1883
Date: April 1, 1883
Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Sept 2 & 4, 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.
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.05693
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Alex Kinnaman, Natalie O'Neal, and Nicole Gray
April 1, 1883.
I got your letter of the 29th, and in the afternoon of the same day (March 30) the package of books came. It was very kind in you to send them. As Dr. Channing's family are ardent friends of you and your book, and have no recent issues, I turned over to them one copy of the poems and the copy of "Specimen Days"—you know I have both myself ("Specimen Days," I regret to say, I have never found time to read, but shall, from the copy you sent me, when I return to Washington, as I shall have more leisure this spring and summer than I had in the dreadful months of labor when the book came.) The other copy of the poems, I shall reserve for some one who shall prove to be worthy: and I hope this disposition of your kind gift will please you.
The Channing family are staunch adherents, and the girls (Mary and Grace—Mary was recently married and is living in Cambridge—) both gave their cousin, Col. Higginson, (whom I have gone for so savagely in the Introductory) a round talking-to on your account, apropos of his article in The Woman's Journal. But Higginson is incorrigible. I imagine, however, that the rhinosceros spear I have planted and turned by steam in his hide (in the Introductory) will startle his supercilious composure, especially what I say about his Port Royal experience, and I guess he will be mad as a wet hen. All right: people that live in porcelain towers or crystal palaces, shouldn't throw stones at the "lower horders," such as we are,—we whose armorial legend is "'eave 'arf a brick at 'im!"
It was very kind to send Karl Elze's book, which I have read (you know I am a very rapid reader) and will return to you by express. I knew him already by his life of Byron, which I own, and the best thing in which is his perfectly exterminating analysis of Mrs Stowe's (or rather Lady Byron's) ridiculous slander. Otherwise in this Byron book, as in the one on Shakespeare, he is a perfect Bismarck phillistine, with a head of wood just larded with brains. The lack of political freedom, inducing proclivity to aristocratic ideas, and utter lack of sympathy with democratic or republican thought, makes all the Germans, even the great ones, (and Elze is not great), perfectly worthless whenever they approach topics connected with the questions of liberty and humanity; and Shakespeare cannot be successfully approached in criticism except in connection with the mighty human movement which made the life of his age—"the world-bettering age," as one of the great Elizabethan men calls it. Hence this supper of sawdust, such as Carl Elze and others like him, sets for us. A dull fellow, moreover, which only partly accounts for his slurring notice of Hugo's magnificent book on Shakespeare—Bismarckism being accountable for the rest of it. However, what paralyzes all Shakespearean criticism, Elze's, as well as the rest, is the obstinate consideration of the work with that Stratford chucklehead and his chucklehead biography. If we had no notion whatever of the author, we should fare better in understanding the work than we do with William Shakespeare on our brains like an incubus. To know a man is to know his book. To be dead sure in advance that Barnum wrote Hamlet and The Tempest, is to be dead sure of knowing little or nothing of those works forever.
I have heard nothing yet about the Heywood trial. You and McKay did perfectly right in keeping aloof and not contributing to the defence. Your connection could not help him and might hurt you. "Against stupidity the gods themselves are powerless," says Euripides, and Heywood is certainly a champion jackass. I am sorry for him, but his bed is his own making, and he should have known what Comstock could do to him if he advertised war on the ovaries. I only hope we shall escape the consequences of his folly.
I suppose the correction has been made, but I noticed in Bucke's Latin motto the error of the diphthong œ (in the fourth line) in the word præclarius. It should be æ (AE), not œ. Munro spells it praeclarius, not using the diphthong character at all, which is sensible.—It is a glorious epigraph.
I have just been down to the Post Office, and got your letter of yesterday, but not the revise, which will not come until tomorrow morning. I am rejoiced at what you say of my contribution, but feel dreadfully at the prospect your letter opens, of my paragraphing being changed. I could bear with equanimity anything but that—especially the breaking up of my running account of the great books into paragraphs. That I never can like. The effect will be horrible. Besides, you told me I was to have my way.
I will write you again after I get the revise. I expect to leave here tomorrow evening and arrive in Washington on Tuesday afternoon: so unless you hear to the contrary, address me at the Office of the Life Saving Service, as usual.
I leave heavy-hearted, for Jeannie is very feeble, and I fear the worst. Yet I must go on to Washington, even if I have to return again. I can only hope that she will revive as the days go on (illness has its ebbs and flows) and be able to journey home. At present, she is too ill and weak to leave her bed.
I shall probably return you the revise from Washington, though I may be able to look over it before I leave, if I get it tomorrow morning. Thanks to Protestantism, Sunday knocks post office usages endways. The post office can only be open for an hour on God's day, so that I get your letter, but not the proof, there not being time for the officials to overhaul postal matter of the second or third or fourth class until Monday!
W. D. O'Connor.