Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 21 February 1883

Date: February 21, 1883

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00476

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 3:326–327. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

Camden N J1
Feb: 21 '83—p. m.

Have just been looking over the "Transfer" pamphlet you sent—pages 46, '7, to which you call'd my attention are (I allow myself to think) a latent flattering unction to me & the ways I suggest of looking at questions in America.2 Indeed such things do me more good than you think for—I am just going over to Germantown to spend to-night, to-morrow & till Thursday noon in the big family & big house, wife, son, two splendid daughters of a Quaker friend, whose carriage comes for me presently.3 The eldest daughter, age 20, an admirer of L. of G. who comes up even to you.4 Thanks for the MS.—(as I write, has not yet arrived but will be here soon no doubt)—You shall see the proof—all your wishes shall be followed.

I am curious to see the Carlyle-Emerson letters—(had not heard before about my being in them)5—You hit long ago on the reason-why of the Emerson (apparent) change, or defection or cloud—whatever it is to be call'd—it was the interference, doubtless hard lying, of others—there was & is a little knot of my most malignant enemies, deadly haters, in & around Boston—some in high quarters—& they plied the man incessantly—Then above all that appears or he appears to say—you may be sure that E loved me—I believe more than he did any one—he showed it at first, & stronger still at last—that Saturday evn'g & Sunday afternoon he & I were (mostly silently) together in September, 1881, at Concord, told it—told better than ever can be put in words6


1. This letter is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | Life Saving Service | Treasury | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden | Feb | 21 | 5 PM | N.J.; Washington, Recd. | Feb | 22 | 430 AM | 1883 | 2. [back]

2. On February 20 O'Connor wrote: "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" (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, June 18, 1888, 351). [back]

3. The family of Robert Pearsall Smith. [back]

4. Mary Whitall Smith, who was at the time a student at Smith College and who married B. F. W. Costelloe and later Bernard Berenson. [back]

5. According to his letter of February 20, O'Connor had read in the New York Tribune excerpts from The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834–1872 (1883). He particularly objected to Emerson's reference to Whitman in one of the letters (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, September 3, 1888, 251): "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" (Monday, June 18, 1888, 352). In 1888 Whitman agreed with O'Connor: "Emerson should have said yes or no—not yes-no" (Monday, June 18, 1888, 353). [back]

6. See the letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Orr Whitman of September 18, 1881, and Whitman's letter to John Burroughs of September 19, 1881[back]


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