Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 21 November 1863

Date: November 21, 1863

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00941

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Kathryn Kruger, and Tim Jackson



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Sat. Nov. 21st
400 L Street

Dear Walt,

Many thanks for your long good letter, which I am not going now to answer. I write at the request of Charlie Eldridge who said that he should be too busy to-day to do so, to tell you that he and Mrs. Cooper are to leave here either in the 8 A.M. or the 11 A.M. train on Monday next, for Philadelphia, and he is to remain at her house that night.1 They want you to leave New York so as to meet them, and stay at her house too. Her residence is No. 1429 Girard Avenue, between Broad & 15th Streets.

Mrs. Cooper has been coaxing, persuading, begging, entreating, commanding even William to go on with them too, but he says he can't , & I know him well enough to know that she can't move him.2 She wants me to go on also, but I know that I shall not unless some strong pressure is brought to bear between now & Monday, for I can see that William does not want to spare me.

They fully count upon seeing you. Charlie will remain at Mrs. C's till Tuesday evening. By the way—he got your letter, & was delighted with it, he said it was worthy to be set in a gold frame & to which Wm. & I assented most heartily.

Dear Walt, we long for you, William sighs for you, & I feel as if a large part of myself were out of the city,—I shall give you a good big kiss when you come, so depend upon it.

My love to your good, noble mother, whom I shall some day know. Kiss her for me—& tell her that I love her boy Walt. I want to see those splendid children too. But I shall some day. Good bye.

No more now, but if you are not back in a few days I will write you a good long letter, and answer yours fully.

Oh! do you know that Mrs. Howells is in New York, has been there a week.3

With love from all—
Yours Nelly.


Notes:

1. In December 1862, on his way to visit his brother George at Fredericksburg, Virginia, Walt Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Charles W. Eldridge, who was now a clerk in the office of the army paymaster. After he had seen for himself that George had not been severely wounded, he returned to Washington, which was to be his home until 1873. Eldridge obtained a desk for Whitman in the office of Major Lyman Hapgood, the army paymaster. The identity of Mrs. Cooper is unclear. A Mrs. Cooper is mentioned in Whitman's notation on Ellen O'Connor's letter of November 10, 1863, and on November 24, 1863, O'Connor informed Whitman that Eldridge was going to stay at Mrs. Cooper's home in Philadelphia for several days. This is undoubtedly the Hattie B. Cooper (listed in the Directory as C. H. B. Cooper, "gentlewoman") who in an undated letter sent a "Christmas Greeting" to Whitman—"from one who has the heart—but not the head—of a poet, and consequently feels a sincere admiration and reverence for those Gifted Mortals, who possess both" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). Fred Vaughan referred to who is likely a different Mrs. Cooper on March 27, 1860; the Mrs. Cooper of Vaughan's letters was the mother of his roommate Robert "Bob" Cooper after Vaughan left Whitman's Classon Avenue apartment. [back]

2. For a time Whitman lived with William and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Eldridge and later Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer and Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was an intelligent man who deserved something better than the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. The humdrum of clerkship, however, was relieved by the presence of Whitman whom he was to love and venerate—and defend with a single-minded fanaticism and an outpouring of vituperation and eulogy that have seldom been equaled. He was the first, and in many ways the most important, of the adulators who divided people arbitrarily into two categories: those who were for and those who were against Walt Whitman. The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" (Complete Prose Works [New York, D. Appleton, 1910] pp. 513). [back]

3. She was the wife of Charles Joseph Howells. According to entries in New York Directories, he must have been versatile (and perhaps eccentric): in 1864–1865 he was an "inventor," in 1865–1866 an inspector in the Custom House, in 1866–1867 simply an "inspector," and in 1867–1868 a seller of hairpins. [back]


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