Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Bernard O'Dowd, 3 November 1890

Date: November 3, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: slv.00005

Source: Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria (Melbourne, Australia). Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Marie Ernster, Amanda J. Axley, Paige Wilkinson, and Stephanie Blalock

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Camden New Jersey U S America1
Nov: 3 1890—

Dear friend Bernard O'Dowd (& dear friends all)

Y'r good letter 29/92 & the newspaper came this mn'g & was welcome, as always3—am cheer'd to hear f'm you all, & y'r affectionate treatment of me, thro' L of G. See you must have rec'd all my letters, papers, slips & scraps, & Dr Bucke's4 book5 (remember that Dr B gives his coloring f'm the eye of a zealous friend—I know well enough that W W is not a quarter as good as B makes him out, but is full of defects & vagaries & faults)—I have since sent you report of R G Ingersoll's6 big lecture in Philadelphia here Oct. 217—I have rec'd from it (& him) $869.45 wh' keeps me in bread & meat & shanty-keeping a good time yet—I also send to you printed slip, "Old Poets"8 my latest piece—am not sure but this internationality of P O & mails (I got a letter this mn'g. all safe f'm Nagasaki,9 written very fair English, f'm a young Japanese reader & absorber of L of G) is the grandest proof of modern civilization, practical brotherhood & Christianity—we feel it here in the U S f'm Canada to Texas, & f'm Atlantic side to Pacific shore—& you must too in Australia—Am mainly ab't same in health but slowly dimming & the pegs coming gradually out as I call it—this grip has hold of me thoroughly, & bladder trouble badly—but I keep fair spirits & suppose mentality & (as before written) fair appetite & sleep—have a good nurse, Warren Fritzinger10 a strong hearty good natured young American man, has been f'm boyhood a sailor & all round the world—go out in propell'd wheel chair11—was out last evn'g to a friend's & wife's12 to supper, (drank a bottle of first rate champagne)—when you write don't be afraid to send me ab't Australian idiosocrasies, the woods, special trees & birds & books, life, people, peculiarities, occupations &c. (Under the thin glaze-surface of conventionalities, as here a vast plummetless-depth of democratic humanity is existing, thinking, acting, ebbing & flowing—there no doubt—that I would like O so like to flatter myself I am giving or trying to give voice to)—I am leisurely cooking up a little 2d annex13 for my L of G, & a collected appendix for Nov. Boughs.14 I enclose you a couple of slips of my last poemet15 in Dec. Phila. Lippincott's16 Magazine—

Barney, you don't know how much you & all there have done me—words by pen & ink are poor perhaps but O how I wish to give you all & each a God bless you & my love to you & the dear wife & baby17 & to Fred18 & Jim19 & Kate, & Ada, Eve,20 & Mr & Mrs Fryer21 & Mr Bury22 & other friends I fear I have not specified—

Walt Whitman

Bernard Patrick O'Dowd (1866–1953) was an Australian poet, lawyer, activist, and journalist. He and his wife, Evangeline Mina Fryer, began a weekly discussion club with secular and Whitmanesque inclinations called the Australeum. His letter of March 12, 1890, began a correspondence with Whitman that lasted until November 1, 1891, and assumed the character of a religious experience, always saluting Whitman with reverential appellations. For more, see Alan L. McLeod, "Whitman in Australia and New Zealand," J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Bernard O'Dowd | Supreme Court Library | Melbourne | Victoria | (via San Francisco & Sidney or otherwise). It is postmarked: CAMDEN NJ | NOV 4 | 10AM | 90. [back]

2. See O'Dowd's letter to Whitman of September 29, 1890. [back]

3. O'Dowd's letter of September 29 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; A. L. McLeod, ed., Walt Whitman in Australia and New Zealand (1964), 27–30) was accompanied by a clipping from Argus, "a sample of the only kind of notice you get in the 'feudal' circles."  [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. Whitman is likely referring to Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). [back]

6. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

7. On October 21, 1890 at Horticultural Hall in Philadelphia, Robert Ingersoll delivered a lecture in honor of Walt Whitman titled Liberty in Literature. Testimonial to Walt Whitman. Whitman recorded in his Commonplace Book that the lecture was "a noble, (very eulogistic to WW & L of G) eloquent speech, well responded to by the audience" and the speech itself was published in New York by the Truth Seeker Company in 1890 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). Following the lecture event, Horace Traubel went to Canada with Bucke. [back]

8. On October 3, 1890, Whitman had accepted an invitation to write for The North American Review. He sent them "Old Poets," the first of a two-part prose contribution, on October 9. "Old Poets" was published in the November 1890 issue of the magazine, and Whitman's "Have We a National Literature?" was published in the March 1891 issue. [back]

9. Whitman is referring to the September 20 ,1890, letter written by an admirer from Nagasaki. [back]

10. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]

11. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

12. Whitman is referring to Thomas Biggs Harned (1851–1921), a lawyer in Philadelphia, and his wife, Augusta Anna Traubel Harned (1856–1914), who was Horace Traubel's sister. [back]

13. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. 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]

15. Whitman's "To the Sunset Breeze" was first published in Lippincott's Magazine in December 1890. [back]

16. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [back]

17. O'Dowd and his wife Evangeline (Eva) Mina Fryer had an infant son. On January 9, 1890, O'Dowd reported the birth of Montaigne Eric Whitman. See A. L. McLeod, "Walt Whitman in Australia," Walt Whitman Review 7 (1961), 28n. [back]

18. Fred Woods was a member of the Australeum discussion club and later wrote Heavenly Thoughts (1932), a volume of poetry. See A. L. McLeod, "Walt Whitman in Australia," Walt Whitman Review 7 (June 1961), 28n. [back]

19. James (Jim) Hartigan was a plasterer and member of the Australeum discussion club. See A. L. McLeod, "Walt Whitman in Australia," Walt Whitman Review 7 (June 1961), 28n. [back]

20. Here, Whitman may be referring to O'Dowd's wife Eve and two of her siblings. [back]

21. Mr. and Mrs. Fryer were Bernard O'Dowd's in-laws. John Robbins Fryer (1826–1912) was a carpenter and conductor of the Melbourne Secular Lyceum. Jane Trump Fryer (1832–1917) was often considered a "political and religious radical," who was also a teacher in the Lyceum. For more on the Fryers, see Frank Bongiorno, "Fryer, Jane (1832–1917)," Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplemental Volume, Online Version, 2006. [back]

22. Thomas Bury, penname "Tom Touchstone," was a columnist for the Ballarat Courier (Victoria). See A. L. McLeod, "Walt Whitman in Australia," Walt Whitman Review 7 (June 1961), 28n. [back]


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