Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Bernard O'Dowd, 20 May 1891

Date: May 20, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: slv.00012

Source: State Library Victoria (Melbourne), AUS Repository: Manuscripts Collection. 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: Ryan Furlong, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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Camden New Jersey—US America1
May 20 1891

Dear comrade B O'D & dear friends & comrades all men & women—

Y'r letter (postmark'd Melb: April 18) came this forenoon2 & was of course welcome—so you have safely rec'd the big books3 & the pictures, wh' is a g't relief to me—I send you same mail with this the 2d annex "Good-Bye my Fancy"4 stitched sheets unb'd (but a good copy)—Am still holding out—low condition & sick & near at the end of the rope—(but all that will manage itself without talk)—

So y'r country is forging away at separate identity5 & independence—like marriage to grown people it is the thing to do, perhaps every way proper & indispensable—but how it will all turn out is in the mystery & fortune of the untried unknown to come. (Seems to me for a century the British gov't has upon the whole been more a loving parent, indulgent & liberal—than any querulous captious one, to its colonies all)—Good bye for this time, dear B, & all dear friends—& God & God's peace be yours—


Walt Whitman

The last6 photo pict: "at 90" is the truest—the London Ill. News7 one is disagreeable foxy8

Can you get there the N E Magazine9 for May 1891?


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Bernard O'Dowd | Supreme Court Library | Melbourne Victoria | via San Francisco. It is postmarked: Camden N.J. | MAY 21 | 6 AM | 91; New York | MAY 21 | 10 30 AM | 91; San Francisco | CAL | MAY 26 | 1891 | F.D.; Melbourne | 17 O | JA 23 |91. The envelope is printed with Whitman's return address: Walt Whitman, | Camden | New Jersey, | U. S. America. Whitman wrote this letter on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lummux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" [back]

2. This letter has not been located. [back]

3. Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), a volume Whitman often referred to as the "big book," 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 for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound the book, 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. [back]

4. Thirty-one poems from Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) 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]

5. Whitman is likely referencing the first National Australasian Convention, which was held in Sydney in March and April 1891. The Convention officially marked the start of the journey for six British colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania—towards nationhood. In a process that took several years, the colonies agreed upon a Constitution Bill, and the British Parliament passed The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act in 1900. Queen Victoria gave her royal assent to the legislation, which took effect on January 1, 1901. At the start of 1901, Australia's six colonies became a nominally independent nation, able to collectively govern as the unified Commonwealth of Australia.  [back]

6. Whitman has written the first sentence of the postscript in the top left corner of the letter, and he has written the second sentence in the top right corner. [back]

7. The Illustrated London News, founded by the British journalist and politician Herbert Ingram (1811–1860) was the first illustrated weekly news magazine. Ingram's sons William and Charles later served as the managing directors of the paper. The paper was published weekly until 1971 and continued publication, with less frequency, until 2003. [back]

8. A full-page engraved portrait of Whitman (based on a photograph by Napoleon Sarony) appeared in the Supplement to the Illustrated London News on November 30, 1889. In a December 3, 1889, letter to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman described The Illustrated London News portrait as "not satisfactory." Whitman elsewhere comments on the Illustrated London News engraving as a "foxy" image of himself. See, for example, Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, December 26, 1889[back]

9. Whitman is referring to the May 1891 issue of the New England Magazine, which contained Horace Traubel's article, "Walt Whitman at Date." For Traubel's article, see New England Magazine 4.3 (May 1891), 275–292. The article is also reprinted in the first appendix of the eighth volume of Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden[back]


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