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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor and Ellen M. O'Connor, 27 September 1868

Dear friend,

I received your note,2 with Ferdinand Freilegrath's3 address, at Cologne. I have called on Mr. Westermann,4 who seemed to think, upon the whole, that the best way to reach F. F. would be to direct to him to care of his publisher, J. G. Cotta, at Stuttgart, Germany. I should like to make up a package for F. F.—but most that I want send him is there in Washington. Still, I may attempt it here. I will write you further about it.5

I am having pleasant quiet times here—am occupied a little, & loafe around a great deal—am having fixed up, & bound, (partly printed too,) the remainings of Leaves of Grass, edition 1867—as there are none on hand, & there is a small demand. Am also writing &c a little.

My dear mother I find in unusual health & spirits, for one of her age. We are moving into the new quarters—much more agreeable & roomy, when settled, than the old ones. My brother George is well & hearty. Eddy the same. Mother sends her love to you & Nelly.

I received yesterday a kind note from Dr. Channing,6 offering me hospitality at Providence. I shall gladly accept—shall certainly make them a visit of a few days before I return to Washington.

I am rooming at Mrs. Price's, but spend a great part of every day with Mother, always taking dinner there. The journey to & fro, & especially crossing the ferry, & resuming my acquaintance with the pilots, is quite a part of my pleasure here.

I had quite an interview tete-a-tete with John Swinton a few nights ago. He is much more deeply impressed with Leaves of Grass than I had supposed—said that the more he read it, the more it imprest him with the meanness & superficiality of all current literature & journalism—went on in a strain that would have answered your & John Burroughs's extremest demands, &c.7

Swinton has lately been posting himself about William Blake, his poems—has the new London edition of W. B. in two vols.8 He, Swinton, gives me rather new information in one respect—says that the formal resemblance between several pieces of Blake, & my pieces, is so marked that he, S, has, with persons that partially know me, passed them off temporarily for mine, & read them aloud as such. He asked me pointedly whether I had not met with Blake's productions in my youth, &c—said that Swinburne's idea of resemblance &c was not so wild, after all. Quite funny, isn't it?9

Tell John Burroughs I send him my love, & I wish you to let him have an opportunity of reading this letter, if he desires to. Charles Eldridge the same.

Is Ashton10 there, & well—& what news in the office?

To Nelly. Dear Nelly.

I am writing this in my room at Mrs. Prices. We had rain all last night, and now a rainy, cloudy, dark Sunday. I was down late to breakfast this morning—had a good breakfast though—nobody home but Mrs. Price & Mr. Arnold11—I like the latter more than formerly—after breakfast we sat leisurely & had a good chat—subject, the Roman Catholic religion—anent of Mrs. Rein's sister & adopted sister being Catholics. When I rose I said I was going up to my room to write to you & William—there were warm expressions from both—Mrs. Price charged me to give her love to you, to William, & to Jeannie—Mr. A. said "Give my love to Mrs. O'Connor, she is a woman I like—Mr. O'Connor I believe I have never seen." Good bye for the present, dear friends.



  • 1.

    This letter's envelope bears the address, "William D. O'Connor, | Light House Bureau, | Treasury Department, | Washington, | D.C." It is postmarked: "New York | Sep | 28."

    A draft of this letter appears on the verso of Walt Whitman's September 29, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle.

  • 2. O'Connor's letter of September 16, 1868. [back]
  • 3. Whitman wrote to Freiligrath on January 26, 1869. [back]
  • 4. Whitman refers to Bernard Westermann, publisher and importer of books, whose office was at 440 Broadway. [back]
  • 5. Whitman followed up on the package for Freiligrath in his October 4, 1868 letter to William D. O'Connor. [back]
  • 6. For William Francis Channing and Whitman's reply to him, see Whitman's September 27, 1868 letter to Channing, in which Whitman accepted Channing's invitation to visit Providence. [back]
  • 7. The enthusiasm of Swinton (to whom Walt Whitman first wrote on February 23, 1863) for Walt Whitman was unbounded. On September 25, 1868, Swinton wrote: "I am profoundly impressed with the great humanity, or genius, that expresses itself through you. I read this afternoon in the book. I read its first division which I never before read. I could convey no idea to you of how it affects my soul. It is more to me than all other books and poetry." [back]
  • 8. Songs of Innocence and of Experience and Poetical Sketches, published by Pickering and edited by R. H. Shepherd, appeared in 1868; see Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of William Blake (New York: Grolier Club of New York, 1921), 268–269. [back]
  • 9. On October 9, 1868, O'Connor commented: "Swinton's discovery of the resemblance in form between Leaves of Grass and Blake's poetry, is in my humble opinion, a mare's nest of the first water. (Irish!!) The resemblance is extremely superficial–about as much as between the Gregorian chant, bellowed by bull-necked priests with donkey lips, and a first-class, infinitely varied, complex-melodied Italian opera, sung by voices half-human, half-divine." [back]
  • 10. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs, and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
  • 11. A friend of the Prices, John Arnold lived with his daughter's family in the same house as the Price family. Helen Price described him as "a Swedenborgian," with whom Walt Whitman frequently argued without "the slightest irritation between them"; see Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), 26–27. [back]
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