Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 19 March 1889

Date: March 19, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00676

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 The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:304. 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, Ryan Furlong, and Stephanie Blalock

March 19 '89

Have rec'd the Saturday Review with notice (bad enough yet essentially taking back their old insults & charges) in wh' y'r name & Dr B[ucke]'s2 are flung about3—will probably send it to you to-morrow—(Horace T4 has taken it away temporarily)—Nothing new with me—if anything different it is I am feeling easier—a dark half raining warmish day here—with me sitting the same alone in big chair—sleep & eat fairly yet—Best love—

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: (Cam(?)) | Mar (?) | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. 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]

3. The Saturday Review of Poetics, Literature, Science, and Art on March 2, 1889, was not nearly so intemperate as Whitman alleged; it would have none of the excesses of O'Connor and Bucke, but the final paragraph was not without point: "No; let us, if it be ours to lecture on poetry, hold up Walt Whitman as much as any one pleases for an awful example of the fate that waits, and justly waits, on those who think (idle souls!) that there is such a thing as progress in poetry, and that because you have steam-engines and other things which Solomon and Sappho had not, you may, nay must, neglect the lessons of Sappho and Solomon. But let us none the less confess that this strayed reveller, this dubiously well-bred truant in poetry, is a poet still, and one of the remarkably few poets that his own country has produced." An earlier notice of Whitman appeared in the journal on May 2, 1868 (see footnote 6 to Whitman's letter to John Camden Hotten of April 24–25, 1868[back]

4. 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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