Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 14 June 1888

Date: June 14, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00715

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), 4:172–173. 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, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Thursday afternoon
June 14 '881

Dear friend W. O'C

Here I am sitting up in the big chair—I got up ab't noon, (& shall keep up an hour or two, & send you my actual sign manual to show proof)—Have been pretty ill, indeed might say pretty serious, two days likely a close call2—but Dr Bucke3 was here & took hold [of] me without gloves—in short, Monday last (four days since) I turned the tide pronouncedly & kept the favorable turn Tuesday forenoon—havnt since kept the good favoring turn the last two days—but the indications are still favorable (good pulse the Dr says last two days) for my getting sort abt as usual—Dr B went back to Canada last Tuesday night, R.R. train—I am half thro' on my little "November Boughs"4—& am stuck of it & proofs &c—

Walt Whitman

Best love to you & Nelly5—get your good letter to-day—

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 postal card is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | 1015 O Street | Washington D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jun 14 | 6 PM | 88. It is endorsed: "Answ'd June 15/88." [back]

2. Troubled by newspaper reports of the poet's illness, O'Connor wrote for information on June 13, 1888 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, April 5, 1889). The almost fatal illness during the early part of June is fully recorded in Traubel's entry of Monday, June 4, 1888. Fortunately Bucke had come to Camden on June 3, 1888 (see Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 3, 1888), and Nathan M. Baker became the poet's nurse on June 10 (see Traubel, Sunday, June 10, 1888). At first Whitman resisted, but for the rest of his life he was not without male nurses. On August 10 Traubel noted: "I have started a Whitman fund—am trying to get a small monthly guarantee each from a group of people to pay for the nurse and the extras required by Whitman's persistent illness" (see Traubel's entry of Friday, August 10, 1888). Among the contributors were Stedman (see Traubel, Tuesday, August 14, 1888), Richard Watson Gilder (see Traubel, Wednesday, March 20, 1889), Josephine Lazarus (see Traubel, Tuesday, April 2, 1889), and Andrew Carnegie (see Traubel, Wednesday, March 27, 1889). When Whitman learned of the fund on March 20, 1889, "he was greatly touched: the tears came into his eyes" (Traubel, Wednesday, March 20, 1889). [back]

3. 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]

4. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. 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]


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