Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 3 August 1888

Date: August 3, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03346

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 created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes August 6, '88," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

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Washington, D.C.
Life-Saving Service,
August 3, 1888.

Dear Walt:

I enclose for your information a letter I got yesterday from Dr. Channing1 about the calendar,2 which reads well.

Today I have a letter from Stedman,3 in which he cordially undertakes the task of getting a publisher. I think this very good of him, as he is quite driven with all sorts of commissions.

I feel sorry that the delay of last year, prevented our getting Mr. Stetson4 to draw the picture I wrote you of for the card, because he is a man of singular genius, and appreciates deeply Leaves of Grass, the central sum of which, and permeating all its parts without exception, is, he thinks, spirituality. I think he would have given us something rarely good — something artistically bold, anyway, though maybe not. But he cannot do it this year, and I understand is getting ready to go for study to Italy.

I did not know that the M.S. of the calendar was to be placed in Stedman's hands, but it could not be better nor friendlier.

Send me back the letter when you have done with it, that I may write to Dr. Channing, who has been very laborious and earnest in the matter. Grace,5 the cherub deviser of the scheme, is now up at Bristol, Rhode Island.

I have been much comforted by the newspaper reports about you, as by your card of the 27th ultimo, though I realize how badly ill you still must be. But I have strong hopes. If you can but weather the summer!

I myself am pretty bad— very back-achy and weak-leggy. But, like Webster, we still live, and who can get us under!

I am glad you can sit up and work a little on your book,6 which must be a comfort.

I have another letter from Dr. Bucke,7 whom I treat disgracefully, not answering promptly. But it is pretty hard to write and keep the office stone rolled up the hill daily.

All consolation! All cheer!

Affectionately yours,
W.D. O'Connor

Walt Whitman.

William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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).


1. William F. Channing (1820–1901), son of William Ellery Channing, and also Ellen O'Connor's brother-in-law, was by training a doctor, but devoted most of his life to scientific experiments. With Moses G. Farmer, he perfected the first fire-alarm system. He was the author of Notes on the Medical Applications of Electricity (Boston: Daniel Davis, Jr., and Joseph M. Wightman, 1849). Ellen O'Connor visited him frequently in Providence, Rhode Island, and Whitman stayed at his home in October, 1868. [back]

2. Grace Ellery Channing, O'Connor's niece, came up with the idea of producing a calendar with selected quotations from Whitman's poetry, to be illustrated by Charles Walter Stetson. O'Connor, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and others worked on the project, which Whitman did not approve of and which never came to fruition. For more information on Channing and the Calendar, see Joann Krieg, "Grace Ellery Channing and the Whitman Calendar," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12 (Spring 1995), 252–256. [back]

3. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Charles Walter Stetson (1858–1911) was a visual artist, often described as a "colorist." He married writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1884, and the couple divorced amicably in 1894. Soon after, he married Grace Ellery Channing. [back]

5. Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937) was a poet; she was the daughter of William F. Channing and the niece of William D. O'Connor. [back]

6. Whitman at this time was working on both November Boughs and Complete Poems & Prose, both published in 1888. [back]

7. 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]


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