"HERBERT GILCHRIST THE PAINTER HAS GONE BACK TO LONDON… TAKING THE PORTRAIT—IT IS MEATY AND SENSUOUS… HOW THE OLD REMEMBRANCES OF WASH'N & THE WAR DAYS COME UP": EXCEPTIONAL AND LENGTHY 1887 AUTOGRAPH LETTER REGARDING THE HEALTH OF WHITMAN'S FRIEND, WILLIAM O'CONNOR, AND ALSO INCLUDING EXTENSIVE UPDATES ON WHITMAN'S HEALTH, PUBLICATIONS, AND SUMMER PLANS, WRITTEN AND SIGNED BY WALT WHITMAN
WHITMAN, Walt. Autograph letter signed. Camden, 1887. Single sheet of unlined stationery, measuring 8-1/2 by 11 inches; p. 1. $17,500.
Exceptional 1887 autograph letter concerning the health of Whitman's friend, William O'Connor; his own health and recent publications; updates on his friends; and his summer retreat plans, written and signed by Walt Whitman.
The letter, dated "Camden Oct: 25 '87," is written entirely in Walt Whitman's hand and reads: "William [third-party pencil annotation: 'O'Connor'] was here ^was here afternoon & evng 18th^ a week or so ago, on his return to Wash'nx—Much the same tantalizing condition, very bad—now paralysis—he goes with a crutch & cane, liability to fall, legs, limpsey—looks fat & well—talks as well as ever in conversation; mentality—entirely unaffected—in spite of his physical disability—& serious prognosis somehow the impression he left upon me was ^perhaps^ more hopeful & even favorable than any thing hitherto since his trouble took the current form—As I understand it he returns to the work of the office—Dr Kinnear says he can & probably will recover—Time only can tell the story—With me very much the same ^my power of bodily movement quite gone^—with that letting down a peg each successive season, before mentioned ^brainpower & c. ab't the same as ever^ I write a little—have a poem in Lippincott, Nov.—also a little piece (which I enclose) from the Cosmopolitan, NY—Sit here in the big cane chair most of the time—am sitting here now—Chilly & cloudy to-day, has a snowy look, glum air & frowning sky. —different enough, I fancy from ^how^ they are with you—I wish you to give my love to the Channing family, all of them, parents & children—I send you some Transcripts—My English friend Herbert Gilchrist the painter has gone back to London ^who is liked there^ taking the portrait ^it is meaty and sensuous^—I hear from Boston occasionally—some of my best friends are there—$800 has been sent me from B. to furnish me a summer retreat at the seashore or down in the woods in hot weather. Best wishes to you Dear C—how the old remembrances of Wash'n & the war days come up—[signed] Walt Whitman." William O'Connor, whose health Whitman chronicles in the letter, remains best known as the author of the Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866. William Douglas O'Connor invited Whitman to live with him and his wife following the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman's brother, George, had been wounded in the battle and the O'Connors' home provided Whitman with an ideal base from which Whitman could make frequent trips to visit both his brother and the scores of wounded soldiers in both Union and Confederate hospitals. The cohabitation turned into a lasting friendship. Whitman stayed at the O'Connors' home for over five months. Indeed, he remained in Washington, D.C. for ten years, during which time he was perhaps the O'Connors' most frequent visitor. O'Connor even helped Whitman to secure a position as a clerk in the Indian Affairs Bureau of the Department of Interior. However, Whitman was fired for moral reasons once the Bureau was alerted to Leaves of Grass. O'Connor, furious at the Bureau's action, battled for Whitman to be reinstated. He also wrote "The Good Gray Poet" to lash out against the forces of censorship that had cost Whitman his job. Thereafter, Whitman would be known as the "Good Gray Poet." O'Connor even wrote letters to major publications including The New York Times defending his friend. O'Connor and Whitman had a fallout in 1872 over O'Connor's support of government social reform (Whitman believed in self-improvement). However, O'Connor remained devoted to defending Whitman's work to the press, particularly Leaves of Grass. The pair reunited when O'Connor became ill. This letter also includes references to Whitman's recent publications, which were "Shakspere-Bacon Cipher" and a group of poems titled "November Boughs" [no relation to the 1888 volume of the same title]. Whitman also mentions Herbert Gilchrist, his British portrait-painter, who brought the original painting back to London, leaving a copy with Whitman. The portrait was criticized as overly tame, but Whitman's friends found it to be accurate. Gilchrist is also known as the editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings. Pencil framing notations on verso. Two printed portraits laid in.
Early creases, mounting tabs to verso. An exceptional about-fine signed autograph Whitman letter.