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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, [7 October 1882]

The worry of Ruskin1—he has at various times sent to me for six sets of my ($10, two Vol.​ ) centennial Edition2—& sent the money for them—with Leaves of Grass is that they are too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of myself, my spinal passions, joys, yearnings, doubts, appetites &c &c.—which is really what the book is mainly for, (as a type however for those passions, joys, workings &c in all the race, at least as shown under modern & especially American auspices)—Then I think he winces at what seems to him the Democratic brag of L. of G.—I have heard from R several times through English visitor friends of his—It is quite certain that he has intended writing to me at length—& has doubtless made draughts of such writing—but defers & fears—& has not yet written—R like a true Englishman evidently believes in the high poetic art of (only) making abstract works, poems, of some fine plot or subject, stirring, beautiful, very noble, completed within their own centre & radius, & nothing to do with the poet's special personality, nor exhibiting the least trace of it—like Shakspere's great unsurpassable dramas. But I have dashed at the greater drama going on within myself & every human being—that is what I have been after3

P.S. William, (as you seem to be destin'd​ to defend the banner) I say here once for all you have my permission to make any extracts, at any time, should you so like from any of my letters—



  • 1. This letter is endorsed: "WW | Answd | Aug 17/83." It is addressed: Wm D. O'Connor | Life Saving Service Bureau | Treasury | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Philadelphia | Oct | 7 | 1 PM | Pa.; Washington, Rec'd | Oct | 8 | 5 30 AM | 1882 | 2. The date is confirmed not only by the postmark but also by O'Connor's letter of August 17, 1883. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter to William Harrison Riley of March 18, 1879 and his letter to John Burroughs of February 21, 1880. [back]
  • 3. O'Connor disagreed with Whitman's evaluation of Ruskin in a letter dated August 17, 1883: "I was very much touched with what Ruskin wrote, which seemed to me to be very strongly on your side. . . . It seems a great thing to say, as Ruskin does, that your book 'is deadly true—in the sense of rifles—against our deadliest social sins'—and also that its fruit is 'ungatherable save by loving and gleaning hands, and by the blessed ones of the poor.' I understand this as a high endorsement." [back]
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