Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 26 August 1866

Date: August 26, 1866

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:284-285. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00210

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Janel Cayer, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson

279 East 55th st. New York.
Sunday morning, Aug. 26.1

Dear friend,2

Your letter came safe, & was indeed welcome. I will leave out "orgies" since you dislike it so much. I have been much delayed in the printing—but I believe they have now fairly got to work, & will go on expeditiously. I found a printer, Chapin,3 24 Beekman st., who was getting new type of the kind I wanted, & I waited for him—He engages to have the composition & presswork done in from two to three weeks. It will be typographically about the same as Drum-Taps, only about five times as thick—Upon calling on Huntington & Son,4 I found that Drum-Taps has sold somewhat better than I anticipated—I was treated very courteously, & they promised to advertise D. T. & push it this fall—I did not say any thing about the coming new Leaves—but may propose to Messrs. H. to be the agents before I return—I shall probably return about the 12th of September—

When I arrived here, I found my mother & the rest lately moved (again) in a large old house out in Brooklyn suburbs, & in a good deal of confusion &c.—Mother was not well, & seemed generally fagged out—But since then things have come round somewhat—Mother has improved a good deal—yesterday felt quite like herself again—I spend three or four hours there every day—Jeff is very well, & George pretty well—in the latter I can see that campaigning & Danville prison have left their mark5—I am stopping at Mrs. Price's, am most pleasantly situated in personal comforts, &c.—Mrs. P. has asked much about you—hopes to see you yet—The weather here is really perfect—I have been to the Central Park, had a long ride & foot ramble—the place is probably looking its best just now—I go out on Broadway occasionally & take a walk, or a ride on the omnibus—I am received by the drivers with renewed rapture—it is more marked than ever.

I havn't learned any thing worth mentioning about literary persons or doings here. I doubt whether the article will be accepted in the Galaxy6—don't know who edits it—I send my love to John Burroughs7—Also the same to Charles Eldridge8—I hope to be able to write to Nelly9—I wish you when you write to say I send my love to her. And now for a while, my dear friend, Farewell.



1. The envelope for this letter bears the address: William D. O'Connor | Light House Board — Treasury Depart- | ment. | Washington, | D. C. It is postmarked: New York | Aug | 26. [back]

2. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was an intelligent man who deserved something better than the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. The humdrum of clerkship, however, was relieved by the presence of Whitman whom he was to love and venerate—and defend with a single-minded fanaticism and an outpouring of vituperation and eulogy that have seldom been equaled, most notably in his pamphlet, "The Good Gray Poet." He was the first, and in many ways the most important, of the adulators who divided people arbitrarily into two categories: those who were for and those who were against Walt Whitman. The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" (Complete Prose Works [New York, D. Appleton, 1910] pp. 513). For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889][back]

3. William E. Chapin was the printer of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

4. F. J. Henry E. Huntington Library & Company, 459 Broome Street; see also Whitman's letter of October 20, 1865[back]

5. Louisa Whitman had written on May 31, 1866: "he has got to be very economical, very different from when he was in the army, but every body changes, some for the better and some for the worser" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). She also had noted that "he appears to be very much taken with some one," and, on June 7, 1866, "i think george will get married" (Trent Collection). George, however, did not marry until 1871. [back]

6. The Galaxy was edited by W. C. and F. P. Church; see "Letter from Walt Whitman to W. C. Church, 7 August 1867" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77] 1:335–336). When W. C. Church wrote on June 13 to O'Connor (Charles E. Feinberg Collection), requesting an article, he suggested that the magazine publish Burroughs's "Walt Whitman and His 'Drum-Taps,'" which appeared in The Galaxy, 2 (December 1, 1866), 606–615. [back]

7. John Burroughs (1837-1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, DC, in 1864, even though Burroughs had frequented Pfaff's beer cellar, where he consistently defended Whitman's poetry, in 1862. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Birds and Poets (1877), Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (1867), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more information on John Burroughs see Burroughs, John [1837-1921] and Ursula [1836-1917][back]

8. Charles W. Eldridge was one half of the Boston based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who put out the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Walt Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster and eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in the office of Major Lyman Hapgood, the army paymaster. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see Thayer, William Wilde [1829–1896] and Charles W. Eldridge [1837–1903][back]

9. Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. In 1872 Whitman would walk out on a debate with William over the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William established a separate residence. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. [back]


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