Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 28 May 1882
Date: May 28, 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), 3:285–286. 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.00443
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Eder Jaramillo, and Nicole Gray
Sunday May 28 '82
Dear William O'Connor
I like the big letter of May 25 the more I have read it—I think it will never die—I am glad the Rev Mr Chadwick2 appears with his Tribune letter to you to-day (as enclosed) for the fine chance it affords to ventilate the real account & true inwardness of that Emerson talk on the Common in 1860—& I at once send you the best synopsis of it I can recall—quite certainly the same in amount as I told you while it was fresh in my memory—the which with hasty scribblings on my relations with Emerson—I hope (working in as from yourself) you will incorporate in your answer to Tribune—
? What were Emersons relations to Walt Whitman?
(for quoting entire in your letter if you think proper)
"What made, and ever makes the argument of Emerson, in that walk on the Common, so dear and holy to me, was the personal affectionateness of it, as of an elderly brother to a younger. It was a vehement, even passionate well-wishing, which I felt then and feel to this hour the gratitude and reverence of my life could never repay. Although perfect from an intellectual and conventional point of view, it did not advance any thing I had not already considered. And my arriere and citadel positions—such as I have indicated in my June North American Review memorandum3—were not only not attacked, they were not even alluded to.
While I am on the subject, let me tell you I am sure the same process went on with Emerson, in this particular (it was not needed any where else) that goes on with many other of my readers. Certain am I that he too finally came to clearly feel that the "Children of Adam" pieces were inevitable and consistent—and in that sense, at least, proper—parts of the book. He was not the man to retract any utterance: whatever it had been, it had expressed the truth of the period.
That he said some transient things, from 1863 to 1873, which are in the critical direction and are acrid, (very likely your discussion will bring them out) there is no doubt. But he permanently loved me, and believed in my poems, of which the "Children of Adam" section, though difficult to unfold, is vertebral."
William, I submit to you whether it wouldnt be well, in your reply to quote all this, as extracted from a late letter to you from me4—
1. This letter is endorsed: "Answ'd | June 3/82." It is addressed: William D O'Connor | Life Saving Service | Bureau | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden | May | 28 | 7 PM | N.J.; Washington, D.C. | May | 29 | 5 AM | 1882 | Recd." [back]
2. John White Chadwick (1840–1904), who termed himself a radical Unitarian, was the pastor of the Second Unitarian Church in Brooklyn from 1865 until his death. He was also a reviewer for The Nation and the author of A Book of Poems (1876). In his reply to O'Connor in the Tribune of May 28, Chadwick averred that Emerson had qualified his earlier praise of the poet. On May 29 O'Connor wrote to Whitman: "Of course I shall answer this clerical blackguard, who has the audacity to accuse me of wilfully and consciously lying, and I shall do my best to answer him with blasting effect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914], 3:283). [back]
3. "A Memorandum at a Venture." [back]