Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 19 June 1882

Date: June 19, 1882

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03046

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.

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

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Life Saving,
Washington, D.C.
June 19, 1882

Dear Walt:

I have yours of yesterday, and am happy in the thought that you find my second letter telling. I think it indicates the line to stick to, and I don't see how Chadwick can climb over it. The enemy would give much to be able to break down the Emerson letter. That is what they will try to do, and my reply to Chadwick will make it harder than ever for them. When we get them fairly shut up on that point, we will proceed to further action.

Meanwhile, be careful not to make any unguarded admissions, so as to call for defence We must not be detained on side issues. I burn to resume the thunder and let the levin fly at Marston. He need not think he is going to escape. At present I am only perplexed by the problem how to make the other side fight. So far, the affair is too much one way, and they seem cowed. O if you only had a publisher! What a chance for advertising is slipping by.

I am anxious not to be dragged away from the main question into the discussion of side issues, and am therefore in doubt whether to reply to "Sigma." Of course, it is a fine chance for the catawampous chaw, as this bogus "experienced critic" will find out if I go for him, but it seems too much like being drawn away from the trail. On the other hand, The Tribune invites my attention to Sigma's "assertion" about the "disgusting Priapism," which is, of course, a disgusting lie, and I I have to make up my mind whether the point is worth scoring. I have been talking today with Professor Loomis who was up at Concord when Emerson's letter was published, and heard him talk on the subject. He says Emerson's enthusiasm about the book was great, and that he never said a word, nor assumed any tone, pointing to any discount or qualification. Emerson's prominent consideration about Leaves of Grass was its absolute newness. He spoke of it as absolutely a new manifestation of literature—a fresh revelation. Professor Loomis is very strong about the impossibility of Emerson ever having gone back upon his letter. The tone he took, he says, precluded this. He says that undoubtedly Emerson was subsequently much annoyed at what the publication of the letter brought upon him—the swarm of "trippers and askers" that surrounded him with demands as to how he could defend such a passage as this, and what had he to say to such an expression as this, etc, etc., and that he may have expressed his annoyance, said petulant things, wished you more than once at the devil, etc., but this was all, and that he never qualified his original utterance—never! This is Professor Loomis' view—a distinguished man, a witness—and it has weight and force at this time.

Thoreau, he said, was equally, or nearly equally, strong in favor of Leaves of Grass, and so were the other Concordians. All this knocks the "disgusting Priapism" assertion endways. Of course we must expect all sorts of hardy lying, but we must allow nothing and demand proof of everything alleged.

Another question is as to the genuineness of the Sigma letter. The Tribune editorial shows a desire to put in something as a makeweight, and to seem biased against me, while admitting my letters and letting me do all the mischief I can, and Whitelaw Reid's notes to me have a cordial tone which sustains this view. Hence, the Sigma letter may be got up as a counterpoise. At any rate, it is let in in sham equity. If genuine, who wrote it? Sigma is the Greek letter S, which might stand for Spofford, the librarian of Congress, who is unfriendly to you, and a great squirt and jackass generally.

I will decide soon whether to answer this serpentine signature.

Apropos, Professor Loomis says he wrote to you for a copy of your book, which he is anxious to get. I wish you would let me know the price, as I have enquiries on this point, and can only suppose it is $2, like the Osgood.

I sent John Burroughs one of yesterday's Tribunes, which I hope will reach him.

The day here is bad for heat, and I sit soaked, after a sleepless night, not fit to write a letter nor anything else. Congratulatory epistles continue to flow. All taffy so far, except "Sigma," whose lucubrations make me think of dear old Gurowski's phrase of objurgation—"Sir, you are an asinine assish ass!" This is too mild, but nevertheless it faintly describes Sigma.

W. D. O'Connor.
Mr. Walt Whitman.


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