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William D. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 2 July 1864

Dear Walt:

Your note of June 25th did not reach me1 till the 28th. Since then another word has come from you to Charles Eldridge.

I was very glad to hear from you and am quite vexed with myself that I did not answer the note at once, as I meant to do. Procrastination seems to possess me of late years. I think it must be in the Washington air, together with other vices.

I am very much encouraged at the prospects of your recovery. I never can say how anxious I was about you when you were here. It was so lucky that you left just when you did, for the three or four days succeeding your departure were fearful for dead heat and I don't know how you could have borne them.

Many thoughts of you have come to me since you went away, and sometimes it has been lonely and a little like death. Particularly at evening when you used to come in.

But, on the whole, every feeling submerges in gratefulness and thankfulness that you were away from this great sultriness and where you can have the rest and help it was not our fortune to be able to give you here.

I do not attempt to write you a letter this time, but only a note or noteling by way of proof that I exist and do not forget you.

Everything here is much as it was. Nelly is not yet gone, but probably goes next week. She will write to you.

I wonder what the future for us is to be. Shall we triumph over obscurities and obstacles and emerge to start the Pathfinder, or whatever the name of it is to be? I wonder if it is so written on the iron leaf. Shall you live to publish many great poems amidst recognition and tumults of applause? Shall I live to write my Shakespeare book and a score of gorgeous romances? Or shall we never meet, never work together, never start any Pathfinder, never do anything but fade out into death, frustrated, lost in oblivion?—

"All the dawns promised shall the day fulfill, The glory and the grandeur of each dream, And every prophecy shall come to pass And all hope be accomplished."

So says Master Robert Browning and so it may be.

At all events I hope you will get well very soon and make preparations for eternity by publishing your Drum-Taps.

I hardly believe you will come back here. But I hope you will. That is, when the weather gets decent. Do go to the seashore if you can. I wish I could. O the rough green of the illumined surges! O the briny odor! Thalatta! Thalatta! It revives me even in this sweltering air just to think of it.

I will now stop writing and send this miserable and wilted letter-a better than which I will write next time.

Rely on me, Walt, for anything you want done here, or anything at all in my power.

With much love, your faithful W. D. O'Connor.


  • 1. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was an intelligent man who deserved something better than the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. The humdrum of clerkship, however, was relieved by the presence of Whitman whom he was to love and venerate—and defend with a single-minded fanaticism and an outpouring of vituperation and eulogy that have seldom been equaled, most notably in his pamphlet, "The Good Gray Poet." He was the first, and in many ways the most important, of the adulators who divided people arbitrarily into two categories: those who were for and those who were against Walt Whitman. The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" (Complete Prose Works [New York, D. Appleton, 1910] pp. 513). For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. Of the O'Connors, Thomas Jefferson Whitman wrote on June 13, 1863: "I am real glad, my dear Walt, that you are among such good people. I hope it will be in the power of some of our family to return their kindness some day. I'm sure twould be done with a heartfelt gratitude. Tis pleasant, too, to think, that there are still people of that kind left." [back]
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