Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Bernard O'Dowd, 1–2 January 1891

Date: January 1–2, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: slv.00008

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.

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

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Camden New Jersey U S America
Jan: 1 '911

Well the New Year has come & it is a dark foggy stormy glum day here—my troubles are still from this inveterate grip & bladder affection (bad)—But I am sitting here, & blessing the powers that it is no worse—as before written I keep pretty good heart (that's the old south side phrase) & a fair appetite & strong right hand—I sent off a parcel with four books (big vols: complete works2) directed to you & sent by express paid thro' in full—if you find a little note in the bundle, to pay expressage there, it is wrong as I after found they required prepayment in the Ex. office here3—they said on Wells, Fargo & Co's (y'r Pacific side Co:) acc't—but the main thing will be, if the bundle reaches you safe, wh' is one motive of my sending now—I am putting some little licks on a little 2d annex to be called "Good bye my Fancy"4 wh' I will send you when printed—& my L of G. & all will be done—I wrote to you ab't a week ago too—has it come all right?5

¼ after 4 p m—(half light)—have just finished a good hearty meal roast turkey, &c: (Am writing all this quite at random to depend on y'r making it out—connecting &c)—Fog, wet & dark out as I look—Hope you are all jolly there & having good times to day—

Jan: 2d—same foggy glum weather—not cold—falls like a great wet blanket over the country everywhere—but the general inside glitter & fun & feasting go on & even increase (it is a kind of delirium)—Of course when you write tell me what has arrived of my sendings, as I am uncertain ab't the mail—do you get the papers I send?—I fancy the letters get there safe—I have rec'd three (? or four) f'm you,6 all welcomed—As I write I hear the great steam whistle (for noon) of a huge factory down by the river—looks sulky enough out (& I must beware lest I get sulky too)—Good will & affectionate remembrances to you & all—New Year happiness & luck to you all—

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 | or otherwise. It is postmarked: Camd[en, N.J.] | JAN 2 | 6 PM | 91; [Philadelphia P.A.] | JAN 2 | 9 PM | [illegible]; San Francisco, Cal. | [JA]N 7 | 1891 | F.D. [back]

2. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

3. See Whitman's letter to O'Dowd of December 26, 1890[back]

4. 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" in 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]

5. Whitman sent a letter to O'Dowd on December 26, 1890, with his Complete Poems & Prose and then again the following day on December 27[back]

6. O'Dowd had written to Whitman on November 24, December 3, and December 23, 1890. [back]


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