Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 9 October 1888

Date: October 9, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03348

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 notes: The annotation, "Wm D.O'Connor," is in an unknown hand. The annotation, "See notes Oct 11, 1888," 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.1
Life Saving Service,
October 9, 1888

Dear Walt:

I was delighted to get yours of the 7th,2 with the welcome November Boughs.3 My eye is now under battery treatment (assault-and-battery treatment, you would think to look at it!)4 and just as soon as I can recover my sight a little better, I will plunge into the volume, which now invites me through a thick blur. I hope David McKay5 will do better with it than he has done with your other books. I long for you to have a good publisher.

More anon.—The weather here has turned very cold, though bright, and I am barking with influenza. November bow-wows! (Isn't this insulting!)

I hope you keep comfortable. Nelly6 sends her love.

Always affectionately.

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. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman, | No. 328 Mickle Street, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Washington, D.C. | Oct 9 | 830 PM | 88; Camden, N.J. | Oct | 10 | 6AM | 1888 | Rec'd. [back]

2. O'Connor is referring to Whitman's letter of October 7, 1888[back]

3. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. In his letter of October 27, 1888, O'Connor offers more details on the condition of his eye: "The pleasing little malady of the eyelid which has inspired me to much eloquent, though silent, profanity, is called ptosis, . . . and consists in a paralysis of the first nerve of the eyelid." [back]

5. David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break 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 also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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