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Walt Whitman to Bernard O'Dowd, 22–23 July 1890


toward sunset—have been reading over y'r good letter of June 9th2 again & it seems to put me among you all again—I send my best loving greetings again to you all—as I wrote ab't two weeks ago & mailed a copy of Dr Bucke's3 book to you & have sent papers &c—Have they come right?—Just finish'd my supper, quite hearty, (only take two meals a day, no dinner) blackberries rice some potatoes & onions & a little meat—appetite good enough—digestion fair—shall get out presently in wheel chair4 for an hour or two—this is the third day of perfect summer weather—(very hot before)—all prosperous—

23d—1½PM—have pass'd my forenoon rather monotonously (yet not unpleasantly) reading the morning papers & idling—no letters by mail this morn'g—one comes tho' just here f'm a Boston friend5 who has been out a thousand miles northwest (Minnesota) & stopt to see Dr Bucke (London, Canada,) & gives me a good acc't of all6America is intense great activity & prosperity—the west & northwest above all—that way (perhaps) danger lies—I am sure the main bulk (torso) of the people U S north & south is sane & essentially right & fair & sensible—but the special political & literary types either bad or distorted—or rather we are passing thro' some (perhaps inevitable) bad stages—I guess we all have to confront such—nations or individuals & get along with them as we can—most likely profit by them—As I sit here alone, in my big old 2d story room "den," my young nurse man7 is down stairs practising & playing his fiddle—my housekeeper8 has gone for the day over to Philadelphia (over by ferry boat & horse cars) & here I sit writing to you all—I want to hear specifically whether my books & papers & what of them reach you safely—

Dear friends God bless you all— Walt Whitman

I wonder if we shall ever meet—but n'importe—I have put myself in L of G & you have that—no news yet of Mr Bury9

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Bernard Patrick O'Dowd (1866–1953) was an Australian poet, lawyer, activist, and journalist. He and his wife, Evangeline Mina Fryer, began a weekly discussion club with secular and Whitmanesque inclinations called the Australeum. His letter of March 12, 1890, began a correspondence with Whitman that lasted until November 1, 1891, and assumed the character of a religious experience, always saluting Whitman with reverential appellations. For more, see Alan L. McLeod, "Whitman in Australia and New Zealand," J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Bernard O'Dowd | Supreme Court Library | Melbourne | Victoria | via San Francisco. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | JUL 23 | 6 PM | 90; Philadelphia, PA. | JUL 23 | 10 PM | F.D. | 90; San Francisco, CA | JUL 28 | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. 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. [back]
  • 4. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 5. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. See Kennedy's letter to Whitman of July 21, 1890. [back]
  • 7. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]
  • 8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. Thomas Bury (1838–1900), penname "Tom Touchstone," was a journalist who worked for the Ballarat Courier in Victoria, Australia. [back]
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