Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 25 May [1882]

Date: May 25, 1882

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 3:282–284. 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.00440

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Eder Jaramillo, and Nicole Gray

May 25

My dear friend

Yours of 20th recd—At this present writing I don't think the Tribune will print your letter at all2—if it dont appear next Sunday, I doubt if it appears at all—the course of the T[ribune] towards me I think has been left to Wm Winter, who I have no doubt writes the squib in T. of 24th May—& also wrote (may be in conjunction with R H Stoddard,)3 the notice of L of G in T. four or five months ago—After Stedman's Scribner article a year or two ago the T. extracted half a column of his condemnatory views & opinions on my treatment of amativeness in L of G.4—a few days afterward, an extract, offering third of a column from Mrs Gilchrists Woman's Estimate was sent Reid, but he refused to print it5—I think, at present at any rate, that indicates their stand—(expediency, popular current &c)—carrying out the old enmity of Bayard Taylor,6 &c &c—

Have you seen Dr Bucke's letter in Springfield Republican of May 23—and the vigorous editorial same number?7 The Boston Herald May 24 (Supplement) takes the same ground8—both editorials would satisfy you perfectly—Shouldnt at all wonder if your guess about Rev T W Higginson9 hits the nail—one nail—exactly on the head.

Your line about the Emerson talk on the Common10 &c is very opportune—it was as you say—the essential matter, at the spine or abysm of all, such as the Bible often presents & in all primal poetry & attempt at returning to Creation's birth-innocence—let alone my attempt at the same result, based on modern science, biology & physiology—was not touched upon at all by Emerson—but it was a splendid & most sincere unfolding of the technical esthetic & conventional & technical literary points applicable—But you know, dear friend, my plan (hobby) is never to shirk the enemys fullest tactics but to state them over again if possible better than ever—I shall mind your admonition though

As things are, I don't feel any resentment at all toward Osgood & Co. A sharp friend here suggests that they themselves (O & Co) had some hand in the Marston-Stevens proceeding & rather egged it on—that they were losing, paying me 25 cts royalty, &c &c—But I havn't the least idea of any such thing—I only mention it because I shouldn't wonder if it came up that way & you will hear it broached—

Dr Bucke is absent in Ottawa, Canada—from there he goes to Cincinnati—John Burroughs I suppose is in England—(he went off in a depress'd humor—blue as indigo)—

As I write—Thursday forenoon—it is raining again, with east wind & the heavens all lead-colored—but I am feeling well as usual & in good spirits—Sometimes I feel to welcome any whack that breaks the stupid monotony even of life's prosperous evenness—& as to this last & in some sense most marked buffeting in the fortunes of Leaves of Grass—why—if it cant stand it & throw it off & go on better than ever, why let it go under—of which I havn't the slightest idea though—but I feel sure the book will gather added, perhaps a main part, interest, from what it has gone through, from association—& I shall too—I tickle myself with the thought how it may be said years hence that at any rate no book on earth ever had such a history

I shall keep you advised if I hear any thing—

Walt Whitman

May 25

I have just had the Tribune of to-day, in which I find the letter—I don't know but Charles Eldridge was right11—Being so much interested perhaps I am not a fair judge—but if ever Jupiter went into the press hurling the lightnings (& yet a sort of Jovian continence) this letter has got him in—It is apparently printed with wonderful correctness—don't need a single alteration—it will live in literature at least as long as Junius—God bless you12


1. This letter is endorsed: "Answ'd May 29/82." It is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | Life Saving Service Bureau | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Philadelphia | Pa. | May 25 82 | 7 PM. [back]

2. But see the latter part of the letter. [back]

3. Winter, the drama critic of the New York Tribune, and Stoddard, a writer and reviewer, were old enemies of Whitman (see Whitman's letter to O'Connor of September 15, 1867). The brief note in the newspaper on May 24 consisted chiefly of adverse comments from the Boston Transcript[back]

4. "Walt Whitman's Naturalism," consisting largely of quotations from Stedman's article, appeared on November 7, 1880 (see the letter from Whitman to Anne Gilchrist of November 10–16, 1880). [back]

5. Edwin Haviland Miller writes that it is difficult not to be irritated at times by Whitman's carping at people like Reid, who gave him considerable space in the New York Tribune during these years, and who printed O'Connor's attack on the poet's critics on May 25. On May 29 O'Connor quoted what Reid had written to him: "I took great pleasure in printing your letter, because it was so cleverly done, and because, besides, I could not help having sympathy with it" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:284). [back]

6. Another favorite target of the Whitmanites. [back]

7. The editorial in the Springfield Republican, entitled "The Prurient Prudes and 'Leaves of Grass,'" quoted Whitman: "There is no bad personal feeling at all—W. W. considers himself treated by Osgood & Co throughout with courtesy and even liberality." The newspaper again defended the poet on May 28 and on June 11. [back]

8. On May 26 Fred R. Guernsey, of the Boston Herald, asked Whitman to write to the editor, E. B. Haskell, "in acknowledgment of his defence of you." The Herald supported Whitman against the Boston censors on May 24 and 28, and on June 2 it quoted Oscar Wilde's defense. [back]

9. Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911), reformer and author, was a consistently hostile critic of Whitman. His first denunciation of the poet, "Unmanly Manhood," in The Woman's Journal on February 4, 1882, charged that Whitman, "with all his fine physique and his freedom from home-ties, never personally followed the drum, but only heard it from the comparatively remote distance of the hospital." O'Connor suggested on May 20 that "Reverend" Higginson was an "instigator" of the whole Boston affair. He promised "in due time [to] plant a javelin where it will do him good." [back]

10. The famous 1860 stroll in the Boston Common (see the letter from Whitman to Abby M. Price of March 29, 1860). On May 20 O'Connor advised Whitman to "be careful in what you say of Emerson's position." [back]

11. On May 20 O'Connor informed Whitman that Eldridge, who had read the manuscript of his letter to the New York Tribune, considered it "the best thing I have done." [back]

12. On May 29 O'Connor expressed his gratitude for Whitman's praise: "I shall get nothing worth so much as your heartful 'God bless you,' flashing from the finale of your postscript" (Traubel, 3:282). [back]


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