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William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 31 August 1888

 loc.03347.003.jpg My dear Walt:

I got your letter of the 6th, a postal card of the 11th,2 divers newspapers, and day before yesterday the handsome magazine with the pen-an-ink portrait—a beautiful piece of work, but a bad likeness—in fact, a caricature, which I hope, as Voltaire3 said of the "Letter to Posterity," is a letter that will never reach its address. He has given you a wad for a mouth and made you squint like one of George Borrow's4 gipsies. Drat  loc.03347.004.jpg his imperence!

I have had it on my mind for a month to write, but have had a bad time. I thought of you anxiously during the abominable swelter of August, and felt rejoiced when the cool spell came, hoping it would do you good, though I got a cold out of it, by ill luck, which pulled me back considerably.

Your letter was very comforting. I shall hope to hear good news of you. I sent your messages to Dr. Channing,5  loc.03347.005.jpg Grace6 and Stedman.7 No news has reached me about the calendar, but I hope it is all right. Grace is expected here in a few days.

Who is it writes of you so friendlily in the editorial notes of Lippincott?

I shall hope all good things for November Boughs.8 I wish it were further along.

I have been using the spare hours when I have felt less weak and woe-begone than I usually do, and less weighted down with office work, to scratch  loc.03347.006.jpg off in pencil a defence of Donnelly's9 book for the N. A. Review, if I can only get it in. It has been a bad task, but a duty, for the reviewers have been outrageous.

My hope and heart are high for you. If the weather will only let up!

Good bye. I find that I can't write much, as I hoped to when I began. As the Indian said to Roger Williams10 when they landed at Seekonk, "What cheer, brother, what cheer!"—meaning, all cheer!11

Affectionately, W.D.O'C Walt Whitman.  loc.03347.001.jpg See notes Sept 1 1888  loc.03347.002.jpg

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 | 328 Mickle Street, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Aug 31. [back]
  • 2. O'Connor may be referring to Whitman's letter of August 6, 1888. Whitman's letter of August 11, 1888 may not be extant. [back]
  • 3. François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), primarily known by his pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher. Voltaire often used satire to criticize the Catholic Church and governmental censorship. [back]
  • 4. George Henry Borrow (1803–1881) was an English author, best known for The Zincali (1841), Lavengro: The scholar, the gypsy, the priest (1851), and The Romany Rye (1857), all of which are novels based on his experiences traveling across Europe. Borrow's writing is particularly fascinated with Romani life and culture. [back]
  • 5. William F. Channing (1820–1901), son of William Ellery Channing, and also Ellen O'Connor's brother-in-law, was by training a doctor, but devoted most of his life to scientific experiments. With Moses G. Farmer, he perfected the first fire-alarm system. He was the author of Notes on the Medical Applications of Electricity (Boston: Daniel Davis, Jr., and Joseph M. Wightman, 1849). Ellen O'Connor visited him frequently in Providence, Rhode Island, and Whitman stayed at his home in October, 1868. [back]
  • 6. Grace Ellery Channing (1862–1937) was a writer and editor. She was the niece of William D. O'Connor. In 1894 she married artist Charles Walter Stetson, soon after his divorce from Channing's lifelong friend, writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. After her initial refusal to ever read Whitman's work, Channing became enthralled by the poet's words and, in 1887, had the idea of creating an illustrated calendar with excerpts from Leaves of Grass. The illustrations would be made by Walter Stetson. The project was never realized. For more on the calendar project, see see Joann Krieg, "Grace Ellery Channing and the Whitman Calendar," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12:4 (1995), 252–256. Channing published her own volume of Whitman-inspired poetry titled Sea-Drift in 1899. [back]
  • 7. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Whitman was working on his book November Boughs at this time, and it was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Roger Williams (c.1603–1683) was an English Reformed theologian and founder of the colony of Providence Plantation in 1636. Williams was also an early abolitionist, and advocated for fair treatment of foreign and indigenous peoples in the British colonies. For more on Williams, see James P. Byrd Jr., The Challenges of Roger Williams: Religious Liberty, Violent Persecution, and the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002). [back]
  • 11. When Roger Williams was exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his unorthodox views, he began to build a settlement on the Seekonk River in the winter of 1635–1636, but was told by Colony authorities that he needed to cross the Seekonk to be outside Colony jurisdiction. When he and his followers arrived on the south side of the river, so the story goes, he was greeted by a group of Narragansett natives, who shouted "What Cheer Netop!" "Netop" meant "friend," and "What Cheer" was a common English greeting of the time, asking "what good tidings do you bring?" Williams would soon found the settlement of Providence. [back]
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