Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, William Douglas O'Connor, and Richard Maurice Bucke, 15 October 1888

Date: October 15, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07526

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:222–223. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

Monday noon
Oct 15 '88

I sit here to-day ab't the same—close by fire in my stove, as it is pretty cool, though pleasant and sunny—now here laid by in the fifth month—all my strength, all bodily-ab't-going-ability quite gone—Spend most of the time here in the big ratan-chair—yet good heart though (in emotionality & mental action)—no sign either of any change or improvement of strength recuperation—But we will see—"(Are we to be beaten down this way in our old age"?) one of Carlyle's books.

J B, I hope it is all going well with you—your little visit did me good—hope you will write me when you can—W O'C, have been thinking of that eye trouble—hope it has gone down or entirely over—Hope this letter from Mary Costelloe1 will interest you2—Show it to Nelly3—in some respects it is a woman's letter, but I like it much—Doctor, the photo came this forenoon—it is one of the best I ever saw—Can you send one to J B and to W O'C?—Some of those photo places off one side appear to make the best pictures in the world—My printing matters (or rather binding ones)4 go on all right but slowly—

Walt Whitman

Please send to W O'C Washington—O'C, please send to Dr Bucke—

This letter is addressed to three close acquaintances of Whitman: the New York naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921), the poet's staunch public defender William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889), and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902). For more on these figures, see these entries from Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998): Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)," Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," and Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice (1837–1902).".


1. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, 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]

2. See Costelloe's letter of October 1, 1888[back]

3. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. At this time, Whitman was in discussions with his publisher David McKay about the preferred binding for November Boughs (1888) [back]


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