Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 14 April 1888

Date: April 14, 1888

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1998), ed. Horace Traubel (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 4:497–499. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The location of this manuscript is unknown.

Whitman Archive ID: med.00824

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock




Washington D.C.,
April 14, 1888.

Dear Walt:

All echoes are delightful, especially such as this one: I was sitting at breakfast yesterday morning, when the lines came into my head which someone has written of Milton:

"Chief of organic numbers,
Old poet of the spheres—"1

And I thought how much more applicable they were to you than to Milton. Just then the postman rang and left me your letter of the 12th!2 This may have been an Irish echo, but all the same an echo.

I was very glad to hear from you. I have been longing to send you a word, but you can't imagine how hard it is for me to rouse myself to write, in my condition of lameness and lethargy. I have lately been undergoing massage, and it certainly was doing me good, but about the first of the month my poor massager, a sturdy young German, fell ill with typhoid fever, and I am now sliding backward.

Today is your day for talking about Mr. Lincoln, but I suppose you will not.

April 16.—I was interrupted here, and could not resume until now. I must certainly try to write to Dr. Bucke.3 His visit here en route to Florida was very pleasant. I am glad to hear that Kennedy's4 book is to come out. I tried to get him some subscribers here, but, alas! my wretched lameness prevents me from exerting myself as I want to. Stedman5 was here during the Authors' week, and told me he had subscribed, which was good of him. He spent an evening with us and spoke of you with enthusiasm. I read over lately, for the first time, his article on you as it appears in the book, and find he has greatly improved it, making many excisions and modifications. It gratified me to see that my talk with him after the magazine article came out had impressed him. His face is Zionward, and he will be a credit to the family yet. He gave me a beautiful account of your last reading of the Lincoln Memorial—the look at the theater, the magic scene of you on the stage inorbed by the light of the lamp on the table, the little girl coming up to you with the basket of flowers, &c., &c. It must all have been very charming.

I did not even know that you were writing little pieces for the Herald6 until some time after you had begun; then I got the back numbers as far as I could, and cut out the pieces, but could not get them all. So I shall be glad to see them in November Boughs. I should like to know what arrangement Bennett made with you, whether it still continues, &c. I am all in the dark about it. And what is the meaning of this onslaught that Tucker7 makes on you in Liberty—Tucker, who did such yeoman's service for us in the fight with Oliver Stevens and Company? I don't understand it at all. I hope you have not been writing anything in praise of that old dead werewolf, Emperor William. It would be an awful mistake. His was a black record. I cannot help thinking that Tucker has made some egregious blunder, but I have no light on the matter at all.

Donnelly's8 book is announced for May, the printer's strike in Chicago having delayed it. All is blooming for him. He is now in England, and there is a good deal of excitement about him. The delay in publication has enabled him to translate about fifty pages more of the cipher for his volume, which is a decided gain for the true believer. Despite my illness and inanition, I am all agog for the result.

"O for the light of another sun,
With my Bazra sword in my hand!"9

Donnelly has made lately a remarkable discovery—that the two folio editions of the play following the edition of 1623, at intervals of nine and twelve years respectively, long after Bacon's10 death, are absolute facsimiles of the first, even the same number of words on each page being preserved. As stereotype did not then exist, these editions were manifestly in each case reset, which could only have been done in this way with great painstaking: and it proves that somebody in the interest of Bacon was alive and busy in preserving carefully the form of the original folio! This is a swashing blow for the Shakespeareans!

What an idyl of your room you opened to me in your flash of description—you in the big chair, the window open to the sunset, the Easter lilies on the sill, and the little bird singing his furious carol! It was quite divine. How I wish you could get active and well!

If Nelly11 knew I were writing she would surely send you her love. She has not been very well this spring—colds being rampant with everyone.

Good-bye, dear Walt—that is, au revoir. I hope you will keep fairly well at any rate, and that I shall see you before long.

Always affectionately,
W. D. O'Connor.


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. John Keats's "Lines on Seeing a Lock of Milton's Hair" (1818) begins, "Chief of organic Numbers! / Old Scholar of the Spheres!" [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to O'Connor of April 12, 1888[back]

3. 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]

4. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. In late 1887, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, invited Whitman to contribute a series of poems and prose pieces for the paper. From December 1887 through August 1888, 33 of Whitman's poems appeared. [back]

7. Benjamin R. Tucker was a translator and friend of Ruskin as well as an editor. On May 25, 1882, Tucker offered to act as Whitman's publisher in order to test the Boston banning of Leaves of Grass (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1992], 9 vols., 2:253–254). As editor of Liberty, he followed the Boston controversy closely in editorial comments on May 27, June 10, and July 22. In the July issue he printed an advertisement in which he offered to sell and mail Leaves of Grass to any purchaser, and informed Stevens, Marston, Tobey, and Comstock, all of whom were mentioned by name, that he was willing to have his offer tested in the courts. On August 19 he commented: "We have offered to meet the enemy, but the enemy declines to be met. . . . We still advertise the book for sale, and sell it openly and rapidly." The advertisement appeared again on September 16. For more information on the controversy, see Joseph P. Hammond, "Stevens, Oliver (b. 1825)" and "Comstock, Anthony (1844–1919)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888.  [back]

9. James Clarence Mangan's translation of Friedrick August von Heyden's "The Last Words of Al-Hassan" contains the lines "O Allah, for the light of another sun, / With my Bazra sword in hand!" Mangan's translation was published in the Dublin University Magazine in 1845 and frequently reprinted during the nineteenth century. [back]

10. 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]

11. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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