Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: William Douglas O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 17 August 1886

Date: August 17, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00445

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 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: Alex Kinnaman, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, and Nicole Gray

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Washington, D.C.
Life Saving Service,
August 17, 1886

Dear Walt:

I send you a cheering review of Hosnett's book from the Nation. So far I have not been able to find the book here, but will continue the search. It appears to give you great rank, and prefigures big future verdicts.

I got your letter of last May, but have not been well able to write with my half-paralyzed hands and moribund head. My little book overwhelmed me with letters, and I have felt stung not to be able to answer many of them, but so it is.

I hope the liquorice powder helped you. If not satisfactory, please let me know sometime when you are writing.

I had a letter from Dr Bucke1 recently, which I will try to answer soon. I was glad he had such a good time.

Donnelly2 promised to have his book out this June, but I guess the decipheration process was more laborious than he had reckoned. My faith is not shaken.

Life seems to have almost stopped still with me. I earnestly wish I could get well, or else peg out suddenly.

I hope you have stood the summer fairly well. It has been, lasting three or four days, pretty comfortable, and the worst is now, which is pretty dog dayish.

Au revoir.
Always faithfully

Walt Whitman,
Camden, N.J.

—Will you be going up to Canada this summer? Charley Eldridge3 intends leaving here for the North on a trip Saturday, and wanted to stop to see you at Camden, but doubts whether he should find you there.

—I had a note from Herbert Gilchrist4 the other day, asking leave to print some letters of mine to Rossetti about his mother. He is writing a memoir of her, which is nearly completed.

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. 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]

2. Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901) was a politician and writer, well known for his notions of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization and for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, published in 1888. [back]

3. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge helped Whitman gain employment in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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