Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 10 December 1886
Date: December 10, 1886
Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Feb 11 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).
Location: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y.
Whitman Archive ID: syr.00028
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Nicole Gray, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
December 10, 1886.
It has been a great trouble to me not to be able to write to you. The difficulty of managing pen and ink is indescribable, and only equalled by the difficulty of putting even the simplest expressions together. I begin to fear that paralysis is not far off. I move about with slowness and difficulty. But worst of all is the horrible deadness of the mind. I put in an appearance every day at the office, but it is a long time since I have been able to do anything.
I got two postal cards from you in August, and recently yours of the 19th ultimo. It saddens me to know of your condition, and I wish it could be otherwise.
You mention having got a German paper (in August) with a long notice of L. of G. Did you see a pamphlet by Dr. Karl Knortz1—a lecture about you delivered in New York to a large audience, I heard with great applause? He sent me a copy, and I undertook to get it translated, but the young lady I trusted hung fire when just near the close, and I have not got the translation quite yet! I hope to have it before long. A German friend who glanced over the article, told me the language was very powerful.
You remember the article from the Nation in review of the New Zealand professor's book about you.2 Since then Charley Eldridge3 has sent me the book, which I will forward to you, if you would like to see it. It is remarkable and good, though I don't always see as he does, and wish he were more comprehensive. But it is most significant, and he is flat-footed for you, and from a background of theory which compels respect, and must make the Apaches of criticism pause to think.
What is most significant, however, is the article called "American Poets" in the October number of the British Quarterly Review. C.W.E. has just sent it to me, and I want to run it over once more, when I will send it to you. It is disfigured by a few lines, but as a whole it is a glorious tribute, and full of splendid and whole-hearted ardor. He reviews all our poets—Lowell, Whittier, Bryant, Longfellow, etc.,—and then puts you far above them all, giving you the larger part of the reviewing space besides. Now when you reflect that the London Quarterly is the great High Tory and aristocratic organ in Great Britain—the very essence of patrician respectability—you will realize where we are, and the advance we have made! The article is a bad blow for the enemy! This is evident by the silence of the Tribune, the Nation, etc., in regard to it. They are mum!
I have your article on Burns4 and am going to read it carefully, when I am a little better. The scan I have given it, made me feel that it was admirable. I look with interest for all the others.
If you are writing again to Dr. Bucke,5 tell him how badly off I am, and that I will answer his letters as soon as I can. At present my brain is just mud—I have a heap of letters unanswered.
No matter what the venal press may say, there is no doubt that Julian Hawthorne told the truth about his interview with Lowell, and that Lowell lied. Julian got him into an awful scrape, no doubt, by the publication. 'Tis joy to see a bird like Lowell come to grief with his foreign friends, to whom he toadied so basely.6
I hope to write you a better letter next time, and that your locomotion and general health may improve. I am always deeply glad to hear from you.
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].
1. Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
2. Probably a publication by John Macmillan Brown of New Zealand's University of Canterbury, who visited Whitman in 1884. It is unclear what the title of the publication was, but it was apparently reviewed in London's The Nation in the early 1880s. [back]
3. Charles W. Eldridge was one of the owners of Thayer and Eldridge, a Boston publishing firm responsible for the third edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1860). For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903). [back]
4. "Robert Burns" had already appeared in The Critic on December 16, 1882, and Whitman republished it in the North American Review under the title "Robert Burns as Poet and Person" in November 1886. [back]
5. 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]
6. Julian Hawthorne (1846–1934) was the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne and an American critic and journalist. In October 24, 1886, he published an interview with his mentor James Russell Lowell, in which Lowell apparently called the Prince of Wales "immensely fat"—a quote Lowell later publicly denied. [back]