Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 27 October 1888

Date: October 27, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03349

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

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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Washington, D.C.
October 27, 1888

Dear Walt:

I was rejoiced to get your card of yesterday this morning.1

The blindness still continues, but with half an eye I send you a word to let you know that I'm not dead yet, no more than you are, dear friend! The pleasing little malady of the eyelid which has inspired me to much eloquent, though silent, profanity, is called ptosis, a Greek name which is fully equivalent to Abaddon (and a bad'un it is: joke: two in this style for one cent!) and consists in a paralysis of the first nerve of the eyelid. The doctor continues the battery, and promises relief soon, warning me not to use the other eye, which I don't, with slight exceptions, such as this one. Soon I hope to send you better than this myopian notelet.

I was glad to see Mrs. Costelloe's2 letter, which I sent the next day to Dr. Bucke3 (old angel!) and have heard he got it.

I am pleased that Stedman4 wrote to you. I suppose it included telling you the delay of the calendar5, for which I am not sorry on the whole, since it gives another chance to get the help of Stetson's grand Fuseli-pencil6 for the design of another year. Grace is going to touch this spirit to fine issues if possible next twelve-month, when we hope he will be freer to work!

—But, whoa! eye-destroying prose. Pegasus of the devil—It fills me with thanks that you still hold your own, dear Walt. I'll bet on you more than on either Harrison or Cleveland!7 (Apropos, what a delicious mess Bull-Sackville has got himself into! The tee-heeing and haw-hawing are multitudinous! Also the Democratic roars!8)

Nelly sends love. More annon.

Always affectionately,
W.D.O'C

Walt Whitman.

—Where's the gold-and-azure October weather I prophecied! Wretched Augur! It is endless rain!


Correspondent:
William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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).

Notes:

1. See the letter from Whitman to Kennedy of October 26, 1888[back]

2. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. In 1887, the writer and editor Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937), the niece of William D. O'Connor, had the idea of creating an illustrated calendar with excerpts from Leaves of Grass. The illustrations would be made by Walter Stetson. The project was never realized. For more on the calendar project, see see Joann Krieg, "Grace Ellery Channing and the Whitman Calendar," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12, no. 4 (1995), 252–256.  [back]

6. Henry Fuseli [Johann Heinrich Füssli] (1741–1825) was a Swiss painter who lived most of his life in England and whose many sketches were widely admired and influenced the younger generation of artists; his figures tended to be cast on a grand heroic scale. [back]

7. Kennedy is referring to the 1888 election between Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison and Democratic President Grover Cleveland, running for reelection. Cleveland, a native New Yorker, lost even though he received the majority of the popular vote. [back]

8. This is likely a reference to the Sackville-West Affair, a political ploy by a Republican supporter that tricked Lionel Sackville-West, British minister to the United States, to endorse Cleveland—a fact quickly used by the Harrison campaign to slander the president as too pro-British. [back]


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