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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 12 November 1882

It is the same publishing, only under a different name. The man who runs Rees Welsh's business, (the chief mate of the ship) and who first proposed & put through the bargain last June with me—David McKay—has formally bo't​ out & assumed R W's miscellaneous & publishing & secondhand books business—& is now & henceforth the publisher of L of G​ and S D​ —drops into Rees Welsh's shoes—It is just as well—& is indeed to me no change—for really my doings have been with McK​ all along from the beginning2S. D.​ sales rather sluggish—(1500 were printed, towards 400 remain on the shelves in 23 Ninth St.)3

I have rec'd​ a long letter from Ezra H Heywood—dated Princeton, Mass:4—Heywood has been arrested by Comstock—part at least of the cause appears to be sending printed slips by mail with "to a common prostitute" and "a woman waits for me"—supplements to Heywood's paper "the Word"—(I believe I will just enclose H's letter—slips & all)—My impression is that Comstock's chief object is to get, (by snap judgment probably) a judicial decision on which he can base a show to go before the P. M. General, (as per the late decision of P.M.G. in such questions)—the hearing is to come off before U.S. Commissioner Hallett in Boston, Nov 16—(As to the vehement action of the Free religious & lover folk, in their conventions, papers &c in my favor—and even proceedings like these of Heywood—I see nothing better for myself or friends to do than quietly stand aside & let it go on)—what do you think?

As I write, it is a cloudy moist warmish Sunday, 10¼ a. m. pleasant—quiet here—I am up in my 3d story, south-front room, writing this—

There is a long & supercilious notice of S. D.​ in N. Y.​ World, Oct 30, I wonder if written by Hurlbert5 himself?—an emanation of that New York nest of little malignants, (Stoddard, little Winter, and half a dozen more)—The Boston Herald some weeks since (Oct: 15) had a lengthy and very warm notice, very judicious extracts (Sylvanus Baxter, author)6—the best I have seen from the book's own standpoint (which of course is every thing)—Are you then going to make a brochure of the Tribune letters?7 Good, if so—Shall I furnish you with more detailed and verbatim data of the Osgood transaction & correspondence—or have you them sufficiently?

Where is Ashton?8 Is he there in W. & do you see him? If so tell him I have not forgotten him—& that I send him & Mrs. A. my love—In a late note I ask'd​ you, if eligible, to send me Charley Eldridge's address9—☛ Do you know what ducks & drakes are? Well, S. D.​ is a rapid skimming over the pond-surface of my life, thoughts, experiences, that way—the real area altogether untouch'd​ , but the flat pebble making a few dips as it flies & flits along—enough at least to give some living touches and contact-points—I was quite willing to make an immensely negative book.

I am holding my own in the recovery of my half state of health—am contemplating some change of base, (residence, domicile—sometimes I have thought of coming to Washington, settling there, getting a lot & small house in fee simple)10—Have you sent Dowden's letter to Dr Bucke? I got a letter from Dr Channing11 asking me to lecture in the Tilton sisters'12 course this winter in Boston—but I cannot lecture at present—besides I shall certainly not do any thing to identify myself specially with free love13


Write often as you can—the days are quite stagnant with me—(a spell at any rate)—


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Wm D O'Connor | Life Saving Service Bureau | Treasury | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden | (?) | 12 | 6 PM | N.J.; Washington, Recd. | Nov | 13 | 430 AM | 1882 | 2. [back]
  • 2. See the letter from Whitman to Anne Gilchrist of October 8, 1882. [back]
  • 3. Whitman constantly gave out erroneous figures. Only 1,000 copies of Specimen Days were printed in 1882 (see Whitman's letter to Anne Gilchrist of October 8, 1882). On December 1, 925 copies had been sold. Yet The Critic reported on October 21 that the book had been sold out before publication. [back]
  • 4.

    Heywood's letter was published as "An Open Letter to Walt Whitman" in a broadside distributed by The Word (copy in Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Heywood informed Whitman that Benjamin R. Tucker, editor of the Boston Globe, was openly advertising Leaves of Grass in defiance of the post office. On the last page of Heywood's letter, which was sent to O'Connor, Whitman wrote: "I don't want this back again—Have you any thing to Suggest?—the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that is Comstock's game, (see my letter)" (Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library).

    With this letter Whitman enclosed The Truth Seeker of November 4, "Whispers of Heavenly Death," and "Talks with Trelawney," dated August 4, who was quoted as finding in Leaves of Grass "the material of poetry, but not poetry itself" (Berg). Mounted in the lower corner of Whitman's letter is a newspaper advertisement of Miss Leslie Hinton's appearance in Little Sunshine.

  • 5. William Henry Hurlbert (1827–1895) was editor of the New York World from 1876 to 1883. The review of Specimen Days in the newspaper began: "So painfully impressed is Mr. Whitman with the idea that every deed and experience of a man's life, nay, every sight and sound and touch and taste and smell, should be recorded that it is strange he has not sooner written his autobiography." Yet the World had printed on June 4, during the Boston fracas, some highly sympathetic reminiscences of Whitman by Thomas A. Gere, reprinted in Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 32–34. [back]
  • 6. For Whitman's contributions to Baxter's review, see the letter from Whitman to Baxter of October 8, 1882. [back]
  • 7.

    O'Connor also planned to include The Good Gray Poet; see Bucke's letter to O'Connor, dated August 4 (The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). According to Bucke's letter to O'Connor on October 14, the latter decided not to reprint his pamphlet (The Library of Congress). On March 21, 1883, O'Connor explained to Burroughs that the project had been delayed because of "my cares and griefs."

    O'Connor's third letter to the New York Tribune on the Boston censorship was refused by Reid; if possible, it was more choleric and longwinded than his published communications (see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 226–231). Apparently O'Connor forgave the editor of the Tribune, for, in replying to O'Connor on October 14, Bucke wrote: "I think as you do that Reid did well by you and that we should be satisfied" (The Library of Congress).

  • 8. J. Hubley Ashton was Assistant Attorney General when Whitman was employed in that office. [back]
  • 9. On December 18 O'Connor gave Eldridge's address as the Internal Revenue Service Office in Boston. [back]
  • 10. On November 9 Whitman sold his lot at 460 Royden Street for $525 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Feinberg Collection). [back]
  • 11. O'Connor's brother-in-law, Dr. William F. Channing (see the letter from Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor of September 11, 1864). According to O'Connor's letter to Whitman on June 3, 1882, Channing had offered to reprint at his own expense The Good Gray Poet (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, April 19, 1888, 54). [back]
  • 12. According to Heywood's letter to Whitman on November 5, Josephine S. Tilton, "the persistent Socialist, once imprisoned for her Faith," was selling copies of Leaves of Grass on the streets of Boston. [back]
  • 13. On May 28 and 29, the Free Love League adopted the following resolution: "That effort to suppress Walt Whitman's poems for their alleged obscenity, because officious exponents of 'law and order' lack wit to understand them, shows the continued lascivious stupidity voiced by pulpits and courts, the religio-political lewdness still mistaken for culture and purity . . ." (Boston Public Library; Roger Asselineau, L'évolution de Walt Whitman [Paris: Didier, 1954], 252n). [back]
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