Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 22 February 1884

Date: February 22, 1884

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00459

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: Caitlin Henry, Nicole Gray, and Kenneth M. Price



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Washington D.C.
February 22, 1884

Dear Walt:

I got your envelope with the proof sheet of the poem, which I afterwards saw in the magazine.1 Thanks.

I was delighted with the poem. No poem in the English tongue excels it in beauty or equals it in grandeur.

The Springfield Republican article I forwarded at once, as you desired, to Dr. Bucke.2 I wonder who wrote it. Bucke, whom that infamous Nation article never stirred, was roused by this, and wrote me a slogging comment on it! For my own part, it (the Republican article) made me marvel. The implied tribute to you is so high, that the rest makes me wonder. His interpretation (I mean the Republican writer's) seemed to me quite an instantial piece of pure wrong-headedness. Where you wrote "physiological", he reads "sexual", and then makes an ass of himself in commentary.

John Burroughs3 is here. It is five years since I saw him, and his appearance gave me delight. He tells me you think of settling up on the Hudson, which I should fancy a good idea.

John says he heard that Tribune article which I walloped in Bucke's book was written by a woman! This seems impossible. I cannot make my belief square with such a notion.4

Au revoir. I am up to my ears in office work, wretchedly unwell, and wish I could be away. The devil Ennui has been celebrated; there is another far more terrible and malign; it is the foul fiend Routine!

Faithfully always
W.D. O'Connor
Walt Whitman.


Correspondent:
William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). 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).

Notes:

1. Possibly "With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea," which Whitman had mentioned to O'Connor in a letter of December 3, 1883, and which was published in Harper's Monthly in March, 1884. The issue may have been distributed before the publication date. William Sloane Kennedy also discusses this poem in a February 16, 1884 letter to Whitman. [back]

2. 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]

3. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. The "Tribune article" O'Connor refers to is a review, "New Publications," New-York Tribune 41 (19 November 1881): 4. His attack on this review can be found in Bucke's Walt Whitman where he declares "it would seem to have been written . . . in a brothel. . . . The whole article is thoroughly obscene" (81). [back]


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