Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 15 September [1867]

Date: September 15, 1867

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:338–340. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00267

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Ashley Lawson, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Sunday, Sept. 15.1

My dear friend,

I find my mother in excellent spirits & fair health & strength, considering her age, doing her own housework as usual. We have talked much about you & Nelly. I am not at all satisfied with the quarters we occupy, & shall make, probably in conjunction with George, some arrangements to have a house, or home for her & the youngest brother, before I leave.2 George is very well, lives home mainly, & looks & feels as hearty as can be—which is a pleasant surprise to me. I called at the Galaxy office yesterday, but found the Churches out of town—shall call again to-morrow or Tuesday.3

I saw Henry Clapp4—chatted pleasantly an hour with him at Pfaff's5 over some lager—he was very cordial & communicative—I saw George Clapp6—he is the same good creature, apparently not shined upon by fortune's bright sun, any more than formerly. H. C. spoke of the remnants of the old Bohemian crowd—expressed contempt for William Winter7 —called him Turvey-drop, &c.—Stoddard, Steadman, Aldrich, Howells, Garrison,8 &c. were mentioned—there appears to be nothing new to tell about them. Garrison is the man of all work on the Nation. Stoddard still has his place in the Custom House. Ada Clare9 is an actress—has lately been playing at Memphis, Tenn—is now about playing at Albany—Clapp remains as clerk in the City Hall—Spoke of your pamphlet—says he considers it absolutely one of the most vital productions in Literature. He read it through several times. It seems to have had lasting effect upon him both intellectually & emotionally. Says there is nothing of its special character, ever produced, that is, upon the whole, equal to it. It is peerless. Clapp speaks in a tone of seriousness & deference I never heard him use toward any other work or person10

I have seen Haggerty11—Just at dusk I was up Broadway, waiting for a Fulton ferry stage, when he came down upon me with genuine Irish warmth & volubility—I was glad to see him, & we had a talk of some fifteen minutes there on the street—He too spoke of the pamphlet—he said when he first heard of it he went down to Huntington's12 & bought a copy, took it home, & sat down & read it to his wife—when through he read it a second time—& then still a third time. He says he now regularly keeps the pamphlet within reach, & whenever he feels the want of something to rouse him up, & put his mental energies on the alert, he resorts to it.

I have seen Mrs. Price—she asked particularly about you—Mrs. Rhinds is unwell, & has been taken home by her sister, to recuperate—John's book13 has been largely read—at least by those interested in L. of G. and its virtuous & accomplished author—& has had deepest appreciation & acceptance in good quarters. Show John this letter—I send him my love—William, I have not yet rec'd any letters—when any come, send them to me 1194 Atlantic st. opposite Hamilton st. My sister Mat & her children are here. Farewell.

Walt Whitman


1. This letter's envelope bears the address, "William D. O'Connor, | Light House Board, | Treasury Department, | Washington, | D.C." It is postmarked: "New York | (?) | 15." [back]

2. Though none of Walt Whitman's letters to the family is extant between the periods of his two visits to Brooklyn in 1867, it is possible to reconstruct the activities of the family from correspondence addressed to him. Jeff was in St. Louis, and Martha and her children boarded with friends in Towanda, Pennsylvania, until they returned to Brooklyn, about the time Whitman was writing. George, not completely recovered from his illness, was working and living with his mother. The family was considering, as Whitman noted, building a home. Charles Heyde, in June 1867, complained vituperatively of Hannah's vulgarity and meanness, and described an encounter with her which he came out of with "the back of my right hand so badly lacerated by her nails that I am compelld to bandage it." Ed, at least, caused no one any trouble. (Jesse had been confined to an asylum in December of 1864.) [back]

3. William Conant Church (1836–1917), journalist and publisher, was a correspondent for several New York newspapers until he founded the Army and Navy Journal in 1863. With his brother Francis Pharcellus (1839–1906), he established the Galaxy in 1866. Financial control of the Galaxy passed to Sheldon and Company in 1868, and it was absorbed by the Atlantic Monthly in 1878. William published a biography of his life-long friend Ulysses S. Grant in 1897, and Francis wrote for the New York Sun the unsigned piece "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." See Edward F. Grier, "Walt Whitman, the Galaxy, and Democratic Vistas," American Literature, 23 (1951–1952), 332–350; Donald N. Bigelow, William Conant Church & "The Army and Navy Journal" (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952); J. R. Pearson, Jr., "Story of a Magazine: New York's Galaxy, 1866–1878," Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 61 (1957), 217–237, 281–302.

Walt Whitman wrote positively of his meeting with Francis P. Church in his September 27, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor. [back]

4. Henry Clapp (1814–1875) was one of Walt Whitman's intimates from the Pfaffian days. Restless and adventurous, Clapp roamed to Paris, returned in the 1840s to Lynn, Massachusetts, to edit the Essex County Washington (later The Pioneer), and eventually went to New York, where he became "king of the Bohemians." As editor of the short-lived Saturday Press (1858–1860; 1865–1866), he printed "A Child's Reminiscence" ("Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"), and, in 1860, praised Leaves of Grass when others condemned it; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 242–244, 260–261. "Henry Clapp," Walt Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "stepped out from the crowd of hooters—was my friend: a much needed ally at that time (having a paper of his own) when almost the whole press of America when it mentioned me at all treated me with derision or worse. If you ever write anything about me in which it may be properly alluded to I hope you will say good things about Henry Clapp" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 1:236). In his reply to Walt Whitman on May 9, 1867, O'Connor was amused that Clapp was "becoming a respectable citizen. When once a man enters upon the downward path, &c.…one can see as the guilty result of Bohemianism, a place in the Common Council or Board of Aldermen!"

See also Clapp's March 27, 1860 and October 3, 1867 letters to Whitman. Clapp is referred to in Whitman's September 15, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor and in his September 21, 1867 letter to John Burroughs. See William Winter's sympathetic account of Clapp in Old Friends, Being Literary Recollections of Other Days (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909), 57–63.  [back]

5. According to Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 206, Whitman said that he had not visited Pfaff's between 1865 and 1881. For Whitman's account of a supper at Pfaff's, see his early August 1863 letter to Hugo Fritsch. [back]

6. A clerk, according to the New York Directory of 1867–1868. [back]

7. William Winter (1836–1917) was a "sub-editor" of the Saturday Press and drama critic of the New York Tribune from 1865 to 1909. He was one of the "vilifiers" of Leaves of Grass, and was the butt of Whitman's idolators. Whitman himself termed Winter "a dried-up cadaverous schoolmaster" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 2:93), "miserable cuss" (1:61), and "an arrant damned fool" (3:431). In 1888 Winter voiced his hostility to Whitman before an English audience; see William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, 1926), 81–82. In Old Friends, Being Literary Recollections of Other Days, Winter depicted the Pfaffians unsympathetically. [back]

8. These men were Whitman's companions during the Pfaff's days, most of whom, like Clapp himself and Winter, had moved from bohemianism to respectability; they had entered upon O'Connor's "downward path." Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903) was appointed custom inspector in New York through the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne. From 1860 to 1870, he was a literary reviewer for the New York World. A poet as well as an anthologist, he was often characterized as the "Nestor of American literature" (Dictionary of American Biography). He referred briefly to Walt Whitman in Recollections Personal and Literary (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1903), 266. For Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908), one of the few Pfaffians with whom Walt Whitman remained friendly throughout his life, see Whitman's October 20, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907) was associated with Clapp's Saturday Press during its first phase; see Ferris Greenslet, the Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1908), 37–49. In 1865 Aldrich left New York and returned to Boston—to gentility and Longfellow. He was editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1881 to 1890. For Aldrich's opinion of Whitman's poetry, see Greenslet, 138–139. William Dean Howells (1837–1920), the novelist, described his first meeting with Walt Whitman at Pfaff's in Literary Friends and Acquaintances (New York: Harper & Bros., 1900), 73–76. Wendall Phillips Garrison (1840–1907), son of the celebrated abolitionist, was literary editor of the Nation[back]

9. Ada Clare, the stage and pen name of Jane McElheney (or McElhinney) (1836–1874), made her stage debut on August 15, 1855, at Wallack's Theatre in New York; see George Clinton Densmore Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927–1949), 6:365. She was an intimate of the bohemians who gathered at Pfaff's and wrote for the New York Leader. In his August 31, 1862 letter to Walt Whitman, William W. Thayer wrote: "How's Bohemia and its Queen the charming Ada? She talks with us every week in the Leader in articles that wify and I love to read." Her autobiographical novel, Only a Woman's Heart (1866), relates the sufferings of a woman in love with a young actor who becomes famous in the role of Romeo. Except for the contrived romantic conclusion and some melodramatic plotting, the book is an interesting, and occasionally penetrating, study of an Ophelia-like woman (Ada herself). She returned to the stage in 1867–1868. See Charles Warren Stoddard, "Ada Clare, Queen of Bohemia," National Magazine, 22 (1905), 637–645; Albert Parry, Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America (New York: Covici-Friede, 1933), 14–37; Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (1896), 208; Emory Holloway, Whitman—An Interpretation in Narrative (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926); Ralph Adimari and Emory Holloway, ed., New York Dissected (New York: Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1936), 232–233; Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931), 2–4. [back]

10. When O'Connor had belatedly sent Clapp a copy of his pamphlet, he had written defensively: "You don't believe in heroes, and I do! So I know beforehand that my pamphlet comes to you at a disadvantage" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

11. Possibly Thomas Haggerty (or Hagerty), listed in Washington Directories as a clerk in the Treasury Department. [back]

12. The Good Gray Poet was published by Bunce and Henry E. Huntington Library, 459 Broome Street, New York. The correspondence between the publishers and O'Connor is in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]

13. Burroughs' Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person was printed in Washington at the author's expense and was published in New York by the American News Company; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931), The Life and Letters of John Burroughs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925), 1:116. See also Whitman's May 12, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor. Burroughs' book was composed with some assistance from O'Connor and Walt Whitman; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan Co., 1955), 383, and Frederick P. Hier, Jr., "The End of a Literary Mystery," American Mercury, 1 (1924), 471–478. Interestingly, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote to her son on August 1, 1867: "you know i like . . . the good gray poet better than i doo borroughs book. Oconor shows the spirit its wrote in. i should form an idea of the man if i had never seen him by reading his writings." [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.