Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Charles W. Eldridge, 20 July 1889

Date: July 20, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02031

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Ryan Furlong, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden
July 20 '89

Dear C W E

yr's rec'd & welcomed, as always1—So you have flitted north on the Pacific Coast & settled in San Francisco. Good—no doubt—To use the NY slang of low life I send you "good roots" for your new & future habitat—

—I am still holding out here—probably better than you might suppose—but bad enough—physically almost completely disabled—brain physique, locomotion, bladder business, digestion, &c: &c: all in pretty bad way—yet I sit up, read and write (moderately) & get out doors in a propell'd chair2 & keep good spirits—Nothing very significant in my literary affairs—hardly any sales—poor dear W O'C3 he has left by his death a great blank to me too—I just mail'd his little last book "Donnelly's Reviewers"4 to John Burroughs,5 who is temporarily at Hobart N Y & is well as usual—Hot Spell here—three weeks—to day bad.—I hear fm Dr Bucke6 often—Mrs. O'C7 (I fear by accounts) is left with very little financially—spent an hour down by the Delaware river side in my wheel chair


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued 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, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)."

Notes:

1. On July 13, 1889, Eldridge informed Whitman that he had returned to the Internal Revenue Service and that he intended to remain in California. [back]

2. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

3. 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), William D. O'Connor attempted to defend Ignatius Loyola Donnelly's Baconian argument—his theory that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon—an idea Donnelly wrote about in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. The book was published just two weeks after O'Connor's death. [back]

5. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. 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: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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]

7. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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