Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 22 March 1889

Date: March 22, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00672

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), 4:307–308. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Caterina Bernardini, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
March 22 '891

Sunny and beautiful & sufficiently mild to-day—Am feeling fairly. N[elly]'s2 card came this mn'g,3 & I sympathise profoundly with you—hope & pray this will find you comparatively easier & better—Have just a letter from Dr B[ucke]45—they went hence to New York a day & night, saw J H Johnston6—appear to have made some beginning at practically launching the meter.7 The 4th Vol. American Supplement to Enc: Brit: (p. 772) has a statistical rather friendly notice abt me &c8—Love—


W W


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. This postal card is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | 1015 O Street N W | Washington DC. It is postmarked: Camden [illegible] | Mar 22 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor 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 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 Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. According to Ellen's note of the preceding day (March 21, 1889), William's health remained unchanged. [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. See Bucke's letter of March 20, 1889[back]

6. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915], 2:139). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. Of the article, Whitman commented: "It seems to me here is one of the best brief statements of us—if not the best—that has ever been made. It is true it is severely toned down, but then it is carefully put together: every word tells" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, March 26, 1889). (The account of Whitman appears in the Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica [Ninth Edition]: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, vol. 4 [New York: J. M. Stoddart, 1889], 772). [back]


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