Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 27 March 1883
Date: March 27, 1883
Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Jan 18th 1889," 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.05694
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Natalie O'Neal, and Nicole Gray
March 27, 1883.
Your gratifying letter of the 25th instant was received last evening. I return the proof herewith. The only corrections I have seen to make are—
I. Striking out the quotation marks from the declaration of Novalis, which I think was without the quotation marks in the Tribune. I never meant to attribute those words—"the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost"—to Novalis, but only to indicate in that phrase the sense of what he says. The phrase is St. Paul's (I Corinthians, Chap. VI, verse 19) and I think it happily expresses, in epigrammatic form, what Novalis says very grandly, at length, in one of his "Fragments." When I get back to Washington, I will get the German book out of the Congressional Library (it has never been translated) and send you a version of some of his splendid sentences; and when I collect my letters into a pamphlet, as I still mean to (much work and Jeannie's illness having prevented) I think I shall put in a note to the passage about Novalis, giving these sentences, lest some one should accuse me of having made the bull of attributing to von Hardenberg what belongs to Paul.
II. "The poet, using nuptial imagery, as Isaiah, as Ezekiel," etc. I have changed this to sexual imagery, which is truer to the fact as regards Isaiah and Ezekiel. The word "nuptial" was not well chosen originally.
III. I have put in a row of stars (x x x x) to indicate a break in the extracts. You can strike them out, if you choose, for I don't stick on them, but they seem justified.
That is all. The extracts pleased me greatly. They never seemed less mine than when I read them in this proof, nor ever before so powerful. If ever lightning went into sentences, it is these—although I say it, as shouldn't! That Tribune letter did good to Leaves of Grass, and I hope so much of it as is given here (in Bucke's book) will continue to do good. Dick Spofford told me Oliver Stevens felt "perfectly withered" when he read it. Apropos, he told me that his wife, Harriet Prescott Spofford, says always and everywhere, that you are the only poet that ever lived, who has done justice to women.
I have drawn a mark and made a ? beside the passage in which Bucke eulogizes me, just to make you consider it. I read it with deep mental acknowledgments to him, but not without some misgivings. Still, it is his tribute, and it is not for me to make objections. I only wish to consider your interests, and should deprecate the introduction of any express statement, which might challenge successful attack by our enemies. I doubt the truth of the statement that I am "a scholar." Alas! I am not, and have had many a moment of bitter sorrow because I am not—because I have never had the chance to be more than a somewhat omniverous and desultory reader. I am afraid, too, that the Doctor overstates my proficiency in Elizabethan letters. I have had some new insights, some novel views of those books; no more. However, you must judge of the effect of the passage. As I read it, my main thought was whether it would do good or harm, and I am still in dubiety on this question.
I am glad I am to have a revise, for there is one brief correction I want to make, being afraid to let the passage stand as I have it. It is where I mention Bacon as loving to ride at night, uncovered, that he might feel "the spirit of the universe upon his brow." This is from an old note of mine, which I forgot to ascribe to its source, and am unable to verify, though I cannot see how I could have misstated the matter in my notation. The nearest I can come to it is Aubrey's gossip that he loved to ride, uncovered, in the spring rains, that he might feel upon him "the universal spirit of the world"—a magnificent anecdote, I think, and quite in keeping with the Shakespeare ideal (isn't it?), but not quite like my version; and I must alter the latter accordingly, for we are going to run a sweet gauntlet of criticism, and must not be laid open any more than can be helped.
Shouldn't wonder if the book, and especially my share in it, would make an enormous row!
The title page is very handsome, and the Lucretian motto delights my soul. I only wish a good prose translation of the lines (Munro's would do) could be slipped in somewhere in the book, for probably it is better to have the Latin alone on the title-page. I have no doubt, as you suggest, that I shall like the book typographically and every other way.
Today is the day set for Heywood's trial, and cold shivers run over me as I think of it. I can't help some sympathy for the devilish fool, despite the mischief he is likely to do us. Dr. Channing and I have concocted a move toward getting a nolle pros, though with small hope of success. In case of conviction, I mean to attempt, with Ashton's help, to get him promptly pardoned, which will break the force of the finding, and paralyze Comstock in his designs against your book. I am horribly anxious. Heywood is a stupendous jackass, and has contrived to render almost nugatory the clean victory we won by the Tribune letters. It is too bad.
More anon. I am glad you keep well.
W D O'Connor.