Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 12 May [1867]

Dear friend,

My brother does not get on quite as well as I had anticipated.2 Yet I still hold to the judgment in my previous letter. He has been, & is, very sick—has had improved spells, & then goes down again. To-day he is in the latter condition.

William, I received the letter, with Ramsdells note.3 Also Allen's. (Also the first letter soon after my arrival here.)

As to Allen,4 refusing &c. giving his views, reasons, &c. &c. it is perhaps one of those services to a thing, (precious, rare & precious, in philosophy, & life too,) rendered by showing not only how that thing appears from the point of view of intensest vermin & filth, exclusively, but of vermin & filth diluted with shallowness to the last degree that life will bear.

If my brother does not get worse, & no crisis takes place, I think, (as at present intending) I shall leave for Washington Wednesday morning next.

Mother is well, (considering). All the rest are first rate. Jeff is in St. Louis. Nelly, I send you my true love, my darling.



  • 1. This letter's envelope bears the address, "Wm. D. O'Connor, | Light House Board, | Treasury Department, | Washington, | D.C." It is postmarked: "New-York | May | 13." [back]
  • 2. In his May 5, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor, Walt Whitman wrote that his brother George was ill with "malignant erysipelas, with great swelling, sores, & for a while complete blindness." [back]
  • 3. H. J. Ramsdell was a clerk in Washington; in a hospital notebook (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California), Walt Whitman called him "chief clerk." In the 1869 Directory, he was listed as a correspondent. On May 8, 1867, Ramsdell reported the high praise that George Townsend, the journalist (1841–1914), accorded to Walt Whitman—"a stupendous genius," "the song of a God." In his July 17, 1867 letter, he asked Walt 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 D. Holbrook (1836–1870). Actually, on July 12, 1867, Walt 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 Walt Whitman's hand, there is appended a letter signed by Stanbery but written by Walt 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." (Ramsdell's letters are in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) Judge Kelly wrote to Walt 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 Walt Whitman "be appointed to a position in the Treasury Department" (National Archives). [back]
  • 4. On May 9, O'Connor wrote: "I enclose a letter I got from that child of a burnt father, Allen…It is truly Pecksniffian, 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' book…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' " (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 3:521–522). George W. Carleton was a New York publisher, and Henry Stanley Allen was evidently associated with him, since 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 Miller, ed., Drum-Taps, xxv. [back]
Back to top