Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 17 March 1889

Date: March 17, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00662

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), 4:303. 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, Caterina Bernardini, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

Evn'g March 17 '891

Pleasant visit f'm Mrs: Spaulding2 of Boston, friend of L of G. & of me3—I rather think Dr [Bucke]'s4 meter business5 will be practically started, & will be a success—Horace Traubel6 will be Secretary.

Things with me abt same—I sit here in my big chair alone most of the time, as ever, same old monotonous story—yet I keep a good front I hope—

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: Wm D O'Connor | 1015 O Street N W | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden (?) | Mar 17 | 5 PM | 89; Washington, Rec'd. | Mar 18 | (?) AM | 89 | 7. [back]

2. Ada H. Pearsons Spaulding (b. 1841) was a socialite and active member of various reform movements. She wrote a number of letters to Whitman in his final years. [back]

3. In her March 27, 1889, letter to Whitman, she expressed extravagant gratitude for the visit. On one of her calling cards the poet wrote: "dear friend of L of G & me—a middle-aged lady—I sh'd say—one of the real circle." The calling card is part of the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of Walt Whitman papers, held by the Library of Congress, See MSS18630, Box 41, Reel 26. [back]

4. 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]

5. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

6. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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