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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 9 November 1888

I have had a pretty good week so far—am either throwing off (or easying) some of the worst bad subjections and grips

My big book2 (collection of all) is all printed, & paid for & at the binders delaying for one or two little things—it is nothing more than you have seen—but I had a great desire for all to be combined, comprehended at one glance—and here it is—of course I shall send you a copy—

I am sitting yet in my sick room now in my usual big chair by the oak wood fire, & alone. I have plenty visitors enough & good ones—my appetite & sleep are fair—I have a new helper3 & nurse, a clean strong kind hearted young Kanuck man4 Dr. Bucke5 sent me—All indeed goes as well & comfortable as could be expected with me—And how with you? I think of you every day—& most all my friends coming here ask ab't you—I rec'd the letter last week6 & thankful & ask for more—I cannot say I enthuse on H[arrison]'s election7—but I accept it—all right for what it goes—Dr. B. is probably coming this way in a week—Best love to you & to Nelly.8

Walt Whitman

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 addressed: Wm D O'Connor | 1015 O Street | Washington D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Nov 9 | 8 PM | 88; Washington, Rec'd. | Nov 10 | 7 30 AM | 88 | 3. [back]
  • 2. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 3. Edward "Ned" Wilkins (1865–1936) was one of Whitman's nurses during his Camden years; he was sent to Camden from London, Ontario, by Dr. Richard M. Bucke, and he began caring for Whitman on November 5, 1888. He stayed for a year before returning to Canada to attend the Ontario Veterinary School. Wilkins graduated on March 24, 1893, and then he returned to the United States to commence his practice in Alexandria, Indiana. For more information, see Bert A. Thompson, "Edward Wilkins: Male Nurse to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review 15 (September 1969), 194–195. [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of the November 5, 1888. [back]
  • 5. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. See O'Connor's letter to Whitman of November 1, 1888. [back]
  • 7. Whitman was referring to the recent election of the Republican lawyer and politician Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) as the 23rd President of the United States. Harrison defeated the Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland in the 1888 election, and served as President from 1889 to 1893. [back]
  • 8. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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