The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

I. Whitman

§ 13. The Good Gray Poet

This period was also important because of the friendships that it made or fostered. Perhaps the most important was that with William Douglas O’Connor. When, in 1865, Whitman had been employed for several months in the Interior Department under Secretary Harlan, the latter, on learning that he was the author of Leaves of Grass, had him summarily dismissed; then O’Connor came to his friend’s defence in a brilliant and passionate, though ill-advised, polemic, The Good Gray Poet, the title of which gave the bard a fit and enduring sobriquet. The advertising value of such a polemic, or of such an incident, though it was rated highly by Whitman and by some of his friends, may now be questioned. Thanks to such staunch friends, however, Whitman was soon settled, for the eight following years, in a comfortable clerkship in the Attorney-General’s Department. Another close friend and enthusiastic disciple then and later was John Burroughs, who published in 1867 the first biographical and critical study of the poet. An attachment more similar to those of the New York days was Whitman’s singular friendship for Pete Doyle, an unschooled young Confederate soldier, now a street-car conductor, with whom, notwithstanding the disparity in their ages and interests, the poet spent much of his leisure time. To him Whitman wrote the letters which were, after his death, published by one of his literary executors under the appropriate title Calamus. But this comfortable and congenial life was destined to a sudden end.