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Walt Whitman to Bernard O'Dowd, 13–14 January 1891

 slv_tb.00031.jpg Jan: 131

As I sit here rather late at night alone quite unwell & sleepless & thinking of you all I tho't​ I w'd​ write & commune with you & Eve2 & Jim Hardigan​ 3 & Mr & Mrs Fryer4 & Ada & Fred Woods5 & Ted & Louise6 with any others I cannot name (yet wish to)—

The first thing is whether the express parcel of books7—the four big books8—have they come to you safely? Since I sent them I have written to you twice—& in my mind have had Australia & life in the bush & the gum trees, & shearing, & many a mate & shadow more than once—I welcome what you have hinted ab'tthose things more than you know9

One of L of G's best running criticisms & comments is by a Frenchman named Sarrazin10—its tone & points w'd​ deeply interest (perhaps please) you & I will send it if ever translated & printed here. I enclose a touch of it (Have you a foreign bookstore in Melbourne? It is named La Renaissance de la Poesie Anglaise, by Gabriel Sarrazin, Paris. (is in one moderate sized Vol:​ ) various poets treated)

I will send Ingersoll's11 lecture as soon as I get the little printed book—Did you get the full report I sent in the N Y "Truth-Seeker" paper?

If you like the last photo, in the express parcel (if you got it) I can send you some more—it is the last—& perhaps the best likeness—I want to be as much among you all as possible—(or you mention any of the other pictures any of you want & I will send it)

Jan: 14 noon—Bad hours with me—bad night—feel like giving you all good word & loving message possibly for the last—But I may be better & as clear as usual to-morrow or next day—a bevy of visitors (young women & others) send me notice of calling ab't​ noon 15th12—I mustn't forget the dear baby13 God bless the child, & God bless you all—It seems to be growing milder weather & the sun is out—

Walt Whitman  slv_tb.00032.jpg  slv_tb.00033.jpg via San Francisco or otherwise  slv_tb.00034.jpg Closed 38 [illegible] 1 & 3 91

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 or otherwise. It is postmarked: Camden N.J. | JAN 14 | 1 30 PM | 91; San Francisco, CAL. | JAN 19 | 1891 | F.D.; Melbourne | [illegible]S | MR 19 | 91. [back]
  • 2. Evangeline (Eva) Mina Fryer O'Dowd was the wife of Bernard O'Dowd. [back]
  • 3. James Hartigan was a plasterer and member of the Australeum discussion club. [back]
  • 4. Kate and William Fryer were O'Dowd's in-laws. [back]
  • 5. Fred Woods was a member of the Australeum discussion club and later wrote Heavenly Thoughts (1932), a volume of poetry. [back]
  • 6. As yet we have no information about these people. [back]
  • 7. Whitman mailed four copies of his Complete Poems & Prose (1888) to O'Dowd on December 26, 1890. In that letter, he expressed concern about whether or not the package would arrive. [back]
  • 8. Whitman often referred to Complete Poems & Prose (1888) as his "big book." The volume was published by the poet himself in an arrangement with publisher David McKay, who allowed Whitman to use the plates for both Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days—in December 1888. With the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions, and Frederick Oldach bound the volume, which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. 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]
  • 9. Probably Whitman referred to O'Dowd's lengthy confession on June 9, when he wrote: "Love episode of a strange nature; as usual, with bad luck to me. 'Shouldered Bluey' with Ted [Machefer, "a scapegrace, a swagman, but a true mate"] & went through 5 months strange experiences in Australia wilds. Hard times, starvation, annihilation of soul almost, degradation everywhere, I touched with it as much as any I suppose. Staunch mates almost to death" (see A. L. McLeod, ed., Walt Whitman in Australia and New Zealand [Sydney: Wentworth Press, 1964], 21). [back]
  • 10. Gabriel Sarrazin (1853–1935) was a translator and poet from France who commented positively not only on Whitman's work but also on Poe's. Whitman later corresponded with Sarrazin and apparently liked the critic's work on Leaves of Grass—Whitman even had Sarrazin's chapter on his book translated twice. For more on Sarrazin, see Carmine Sarracino, "Sarrazin, Gabriel (1853–1935)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 11. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]
  • 12. In his January 13, 1891 letter, to Whitman, Joseph M. Stoddart announced that he was going to visit the poet with a number of other people, including the actor Francis Wilson, the daughter of Julian Hawthorne, and possibly Paul Belloni Du Chaillu (1835–1903), the African explorer and author. On the letter, Whitman wrote: "ans'd | told them to come." On January 16 Wilson wrote to Whitman and sent a gift of a bottle of Old Crow Whiskey. As Whitman told Traubel, the visit was brief but "brightening" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 15, 1891). [back]
  • 13. O'Dowd and his wife Evangeline (Eva) Mina Fryer had a two-month-old son. On January 9, 1890, O'Dowd reported the birth of a son, Montaigne Eric Whitman. See also A. L. McLeod, "Walt Whitman in Australia," Walt Whitman Review 7 (June 1961), 30n. [back]
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