Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 20 February 1883

Date: February 20, 1883

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03070

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 June 18 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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

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February 20, 1883.

Dear Walt:

I have sent you the MS of my letter to Bucke. It goes this day by Adams' Express, addressed to you.

I sent you a card this morning just before your letter came. There is not the least bit of "pestering" in the matter, and of course I appreciate the necessity for despatch. I only got the MS from R M. B. on Saturday, and set to work revising it the next day. I am so driven with work, and so weary and worn, that I cannot always be as quick as I would like to in these offices. The collection of my anti-Comstock letters has been positively prevented up to date, by simple lack of time. I shall soon have some let up. We have had a horrid fight with the Navy, and flaxed them awfully—rousing Congress and the Seaboard upon them. I send you a pamphlet, which has some of the shrapnel we swept their decks with. The paper on Life-Saving transfer is mine—some touches in the others. I was thinking of you when I wrote the first and third of my three reasons against transfer.

I am rejoiced that the G. G. P. still seems good in your eyes. I should be glad to leave out some sentences in the last page, and originally intended to, but thinking it over, could not see my way clear, inasmuch as the whole publication is a matter of history, and ought to stand, follies and all, and several of my abusive critics at the time quoted the very passages I want to omit, for animadversion, which makes it more difficult now to withdraw them. Do you see my dilemma? The sentences sending the pamphlet to a number of persons named on the last page, are an absurdity, yet I don't see very well how I can honorably back out of it now, and escape twitting. How does this view strike you?

It was Bucke's wish that I should write the prefaratory letter I send, and I accepted the chance of supplementing the pamphlet with a few remarks upon the Harlan transaction; of paying my respects to some of your recent critics, teaching them that there are blows to take as well as give; and of putting you, where you properly belong, in the line of succession from Shakespeare, which will make some of our literati howl. I hope you will think it good, and effective. Like everything I write, it has been done in a hurry, and without those leisures of the soul which are requisite to satisfactory work.

I trust it will be in good type. Where is it to go? The pamphlet, of course, belongs to the appendix. Let me have proof of all, which I will return promptly.

The MS. on copying press paper is my little tilt with Lanman, and should come on after the pamphlet in the appendix. Bucke wanted it at first, but in his last letter thinks it best to omit it, although he leaves it to me. Now I think it ought to go in, as it finishes the Harlan affair handsomely. But do as you think best. It is a rather crushing rejoinder to Lanman, and a punishment to Stoddard, who is awfully mean, and it has a good effect of tone after the fiery pamphlet.

I hope Bucke's book will be a success. It comes in good time. He has a rare chance. I aimed, also, in my contribution to the volume, to add to its interest and attractiveness.

I see by the extracts in Sunday's Tribune that you are in the Carlyle and Emerson letters. Did you see it? I shall want to see the volume. The letter, as printed, is very characteristic of Emerson—his reserve, his shrinking, like a woman's, because of rebuff; his deceptive concessions to the enemy, in a vein of pleasantry, almost like irony, almost like a sneer, when he says the book "wanted good morals so much" that he did not send it. Of course, some people will take a different view. But I think I understand Emerson's real feeling, which is in his first letter to you, and there is no denying it.

I am suspicious of Professor Norton as an editor of this correspondence. I hope he would not suppress things favorable to you, but have little faith in him since I read a sketch of his lecture on Greek art, in which he held that the later Greek sculpture began to be indecent with nudity—the great or earlier Greek being always draped, as in the work of Phidias; which precious assertion made me think of the Panathenaic frieze of Phidias where a row of soldiers charges, all naked, and the phallus in each man not only bare, but erected—stiff with valor—which is good for Professor Norton! Selah! I must close. More anon.



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