Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 22 January [1886]

Dear friend

Yours of 21st rec'd​ this forenoon, with slip from Nation (herewith enclosed, returned)—I am glad you sent it me, as I do not see the N.—The eye-works have resumed operations pretty nearly same as before—I see out of both now & a great blessing in my imprisoned condition—A friend has sent me Stedman's book, & I have looked it over2—it seems to me a dissertation & biographies on very grand themes & persons by an amiable "clerk with a pen behind his ear"—as Warren Hastings or Macaulay, or Canning or Sheridan or somebody said—("By God, sir, if I am to have a master, don't let it be a mere clerk with a pen behind his ear")—I heard from John Burroughs ten days since—he was well & every thing right—I hear from Dr Bucke pretty often—he is not well himself—(though not down)—& there has been bad sickness in his family & the hospital staff—his last letter rec'd​ yesterday is dated at Sarnia, Canada3

I am getting along comfortably—the weather has been bad as can be & the traveling ditto, for three weeks past, my old nag has nearly given out too, & I have not been out of the house—which tells on me—great torpor of the secretions—I am very clumsy & can hardly get up or down stairs—

The English "offering" (through Rossetti and Herbert Gilchrist) will am't​ to over $500—the principal part of which has been already sent me4—& on which I am really living this winter—write oftener—My last half-annual return of royalties for both my books just rec'd​ —$20.71cts5—the death of Mrs. Gilchrist has been a gloom to me, & has affected me ever since—I am not sure but she had the finest & perfectest nature I ever met—Glad to hear ab't​ the Channing's6—Give them my love—I am scribbling in my little front room down stairs—the parrot has been squalling & the canary singing—I write hardly at all—

W. W.

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 endorsed: "Answ'd March 23/86." It is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | Life Saving Service | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden | Jan | 22 | 5 PM | 1886 | N.J.; Washington, Rec'd | Jan | 23 | 7 AM | 1886 | 5. [back]
  • 2. Poets of America (1885), which contained Stedman's article on Whitman. [back]
  • 3. Neither Burroughs's letter nor Bucke's is extant. [back]
  • 4. On January 25 Whitman received the fourth installment from Rossetti—£33 16s. 6d. (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also the letter from Whitman to William Michael Rossetti of November 30, 1885. In a letter on January 5 Rossetti mentioned that he had inserted in The Athenaeum on January 2 "a reminder to any well-wishers" who might want to contribute to the offering. An identical notice appeared in The Academy on the same day. Commenting on Rossetti's letter, Whitman said to Traubel: "Rossetti is the kind of friend who never forgets the market basket" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 9 vols., 2:291). [back]
  • 5. Whitman received this sum from McKay on December 1, 1885 (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]
  • 6. O'Connor's brother-in-law, Dr. William F. Channing, had recently moved to Pasadena, Calif., according to O'Connor's letter of January 21. [back]
Back to top