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William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 9 May 1867

 loc.01820.001_large_mflm.jpg My dear Walt:

I duly got your letter of May 5th2 and was very glad to hear from you. I sent you a letter which came for you on Monday, and which I hope you got, and herewith enclose another which Ramsdell3 left for you.

I earnestly hope George4 will be better when this reaches you.5 We all felt sobered to know that he was so badly. The turn in the weather today, I think will be good for him.

I can well imagine how you must have felt to see him so, and how sad it must be for  loc.01820.002_large_mflm.jpg your mother.

I enclose a letter I got from that child of a burnt father, Allen,6 which you can bring back with you when you come. It is truly Pecksniffian,7 and seems to have been written on all-fours. You will see that it ends the matter of publishing the book, and he doesn't say a word about John Burroughs'8 book,9 but of course that is understood to be declined also. I have written him, saying that John will at once put the book to press himself.

I had another letter from Raymond10 yesterday, very kind  loc.01820.003_large_mflm.jpg and friendly. He evidently does not yet know of the Allen–Carleton decision. Part of it is about my coming upon the Times—a sort of hankering treatment of the subject, but no offer, which of course he couldn't well make, not knowing exactly how useful or available my talent would be to him. He has not heard that I was in New York. I shall write him—today, if I can.

I think, on the whole, it is probably altogether best that Carleton should have nothing to do with "Leaves of Grass," though I would well enough like to have him publish the "Notes."

—I write in a hurry, nearly  loc.01820.004_large_mflm.jpg on mail time. Nelly11 charged me to send you her love. Your letter was very sweet. I think a young girl finding herself beloved or admired by some one unsuspected before, must feel as I did when I read how the household thought of me. But I didn't lay myself out at all, as you say, and moreover, the evening I was there I had a shocking headache.12

Give my loving remembrance to all, especially your mother. I have not yet succeeded in telling you (you know we were interrupted each time we began to talk of it,) how deeply she affected me. Her cheerfulness, her infinite gentleness and tenderness, were like the deep  loc.01820.005_large_mflm.jpg smile of the evening sky. As I saw her that night, with the children on each side, and each leaning a head upon her, I thought of the Madonna grown old.

Charley13 bade me send you his love. He has been in the most extraordinary jolly humor all this week. It is as if the Cheeryble Brothers14 were rolled into one. The Times has done him the recent honor of copying at length, and devoting an editorial to, besides, one of his late letters to the Standard, in which he comes the bloody Roman centurion on a batch  loc.01820.006_large_mflm.jpg of politicians, sparing not one.

H. Clapp15 will end by becoming a respectable citizen. When once a man enters upon the downward path, &c. Like De Quincey's16 warning against the practice of murder, on the ground that it leads to procrastination and Sabbath breaking, so one can see as the guilty result of Bohemianism, a place in the Common Council or Board of Aldermen!

Good bye. I hope George is better today.

Your very faithful W.D.O'C.  loc.01820.007_large_mflm.jpg Wm O'Connor May, 1867. see notes Jan 12 1889

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, Esq | Box 218. | Brooklyn. N.Y. It is postmarked: Washington D.C. | MAY | 9. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to O'Connor of May 5, 1867. [back]
  • 3. Hiram J. Ramsdell (1839–1887) was a clerk in Washington; in a hospital notebook (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California), Whitman called him "chief clerk." Ramsdell was the Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune and the Cincinnati Commercial. On May 8, 1867, Ramsdell reported the high praise that George Townsend, the journalist (1841–1914), accorded to Whitman—"a stupendous genius," "the song of a God." On July 17, 1867, he asked Whitman to do whatever he could for Judge Milton Kelly, of Idaho, against whom charges had been brought by "a very bad man," Congressman Edward Dexter Holbrook (1836–1870), a Democrat from the Idaho Territory. Actually, on July 12, 1867, Whitman had submitted to the Attorney General a "Report on the Charges submitted by Hon. E. D. Holbrook, Del[egate] from Idaho Terr[itory], against Hon. Milton Kelly, Asso[ciate] Just[ice] Supreme Court of Idaho" (National Archives). To this forty-one page summary of the evidence, all in Whitman's hand, there is appended a letter signed by attorney general Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) but inscribed by Whitman, dated July 20, 1867: "The Conclusion in the preceding Report is hereby adopted by me, & ordered to stand as the decision of this Office in the Case, so far as now presented." On July 22, 1867, Ramsdell apologized for his "aggressiveness." Judge Kelly wrote to Whitman on June(?) 21, 1867 (National Archives), and again on August 9, 1867. On November 15, 1875, Ramsdell, among others, petitioned Benjamin H. Bristow (1832–1896), Secretary of the Treasury, that Whitman "be appointed to a position in the Treasury Department" (National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for over a decade in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. On May 2, 1867, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman reported that George Washington Whitman was not well, but was still able to go to work; she did not indicate the gravity of his illness. She was upset by all the turmoil involved in Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's moving. Martha, Jeff's wife, somewhat impulsively, sold all the furnishings "and spent the money as fast as it came in for clothes to go in the country." Under the circumstances, since the family desperately needed some one who could "take things coolly," it is understandable that Walt Whitman decided to hurry to Brooklyn. [back]
  • 6. Henry Stanley Allen (1830–1904) was a publisher who partnered with New York publisher George W. Carleton in 1867; the 1867 Directory listed them at the same business address. In 1864 O'Connor had suggested Carleton as the publisher of Drum-Taps; see Trowbridge's February 12, 1864, letter to Walt Whitman. In 1865, O'Connor proposed to George William Curtis (1824–1892), the editor of Harper's Weekly, that he write to Carleton about the publication of The Good Gray Poet; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 1:86. Since O'Connor was not successful in either attempt, it is surprising that he once again sought to interest Carleton in publication schemes. See also the introduction to Drum-Taps, ed. Frederick DeWolfe Miller (Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1959), 25. [back]
  • 7. Seth Pecksniff is a villain from Charles Dickens' novel Martin Chuzzlewit whose name became synonymous with hypocrisy. [back]
  • 8. 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 decades-long 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]
  • 9. John Burroughs's Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person was first published in New York in 1867. The text was extensively revised and rewritten by Whitman. [back]
  • 10. Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820–1869) established the New York Daily Times on September 18, 1851. Raymond termed The Good Gray Poet "the most brilliant monograph in our literature" (Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs, 35), and he published O'Connor's review of Leaves of Grass on December 2, 1866 (see Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of December 4, 1866). Raymond later asked O'Connor to write for the Times; see the letter from Whitman to his mother of April 16, 1867. [back]
  • 11. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 12. O'Connor is responding to a comment made by Whitman in his last letter of May 5, 1867, in which he had described O'Connor's popularity within the family: "They all talk of you here—as of the good person, the desired one, exhilarating, whose presence gives sun, & whose talk nourishes—(I think you must have laid yourself out that evening)." [back]
  • 13. Charley Sorrell and his brother, Jim, were drivers. [back]
  • 14. The "Cheerbyle Brothers" are German identical twin brothers and merchants with a zest for philanthropy. The brothers are characters in Charles Dickens's novel Nicholas Nickleby (1839). [back]
  • 15. Henry Clapp, Jr. (1814–1875) was a journalist, editor and reformer. Whitman and Clapp most likely met in Charles Pfaff's beer cellar, located in lower Manhattan. Clapp, who founded the literary weekly the Saturday Press in 1858, was instrumental in promoting Whitman's poetry and celebrity: over twenty items on Whitman appeared in the Press before the periodical folded (for the first time) in 1860. Of Clapp Whitman told Horace Traubel, "You will have to know something about Henry Clapp if you want to know all about me." For more about Whitman's thoughts on Clapp, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 27, 1888. For more information on Clapp, see Christine Stansell, "Clapp, Henry (1814–1875)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 16. Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859) was an English writer, essayist, and literary critic, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). [back]
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