Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 3 June 1882

Date: June 3, 1882

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03044

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Apr 20 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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Washington, D.C.
June 3, 1882.

Dear Walt:

Your two letters, full of memoranda, of May 28 and 30 came duly. I have "toiled terribly," as Cecil said of Raleigh, and sent off another letter to the Tribune, which I think will make Mr. Chadwick wear a toupee, for I have snatched him bald-headed. It has cost me great labor, though you may not think so when you read it, it runs off so savagely easy; but the difficulty in a controversy of this kind is to mould everything so as not to lay yourself open, and to give no points to the enemy, and this costs time and care. My old fencing-master, Boulet, (no better ever lived; he taught once at West Point,) taught me always to cover my breast with hilt and point, even in the lunge, and I think of his lessons when engaged in fence of another kind. I hope I have succeeded in being both guarded and bold in this new encounter with Chadwick.

I have freely used the memoranda you sent, and got in as much of it as I could see my way to employ, and as much as I dared. I think you will feel satisfied with the use I have made of it. Some things I thought it prudent to withhold, because they might provoke replication when we are not in a position to defend ourselves, not being ever sure that a single organ is open to us.

You must be very careful in this matter. Even words must be carefully chosen, for the enemy is unscrupulous and uses every advantage we give him. I came near getting into a pretty scrape by trusting to your memorandum about the appearance of Emerson's letter in Cooke's memoir published by Osgood. It was a splendid point to make, that the letter appeared verbatim in a book issued with Emerson's own sanction a year ago, and I worked it in and made the most of it. But at the last, I thought it would be prudent to see the book, and there was the letter sure enough, but with a lot of remarks by the editor to the effect that "it is understood" (the usual sneaking lie in putting it) that Emerson had considerably modified his feeling, and regretted, etc., etc. Fortunately, there is not a word in the preface to show that the book had Emerson's sanction,—but just see the scrape I would have been in had I used the information in the shape you sent it!! Indeed, Walt, you ought to be more careful, "A wild and many-weaponed throng, hang on our front and flank and rear." If I had said that the letter was reprinted in a book with Emerson's sanction, Chadwick would have had me. Our stronghold is the Emerson letter, unretracted by himself. Next thing we shall have to meet, will be the stories of what Emerson said to this man or that man. We must deny them all, and call for proof. Let us admit nothing. Make the other side prove their allegations.

I hope my new letter will be as successful with you and the public as my first. My aim has been to shut Chadwick up for good, for I don't want to be bothered on a side issue by this egotistic jackass.

Letters are pouring in upon me. One from John Hay, very cordial. One from the Melancholy Club of New York, very overflowing, inviting me to a grand supper to be given on Saturday (this) evening in honor of you and of my letter! Have you been invited? And who are the Melancholy Club men, of Lexington Avenue? I returned them a civil letter of regret at my inability to be present, etc., and consoled them by offering as a toast "old Selden's trumpet-sentence—'Before all things, liberty!"—"words," I said "which are good to remember when thought is menaced by law." I have had a number of other letters from persons unknown. One from Bucke, quite jubilant over my letter, and telling me the fix I have got his book into, which is comic as a scene from Moliere. You will see the fun when you know that he had sent his MS. to Osgood!! I also got a letter from John Burroughs, announcing his arrival, and I at once sent him a Tribune containing the letter. I also have a letter from Dr. Channing at Providence, red-hot for you, and proposing to reprint my "Good Gray Poet" at his expense!!

There has been quite a swarming of people after me. The press notices are generally favorable and hearty. I hope nothing adverse or disastrous will happen. I want the matter to result in your getting a publisher, as it ought.

Watch the Tribune for my anti-Chadwick. I hardly think it will fail to bring him down. At the last moment, after two days of anxious cogitation, I cut out of it several pages of really withering ridicule, excellent in itself, but possibly injurious to the main effect. You see how solely I consider the interests of your cause—sacrificing thereto my choicest satirical felicities!

Good bye
Yours faithfully
W. D. O'Connor.
Walt Whitman, Esq.


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