Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 12 October 1865

Date: October 12, 1865

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:267-268. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00200

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson




Brooklyn,
October 12, 1865.1

My dear Nelly,2

I sit down home here in the front basement alone to write you a few lines. Mother is still at Burlington,3 & I am waiting to hear from her, what she decides, about coming home—I shall probably go for her very shortly. I find it makes a mighty difference in my visit—(What is home without—&c)—

My dear little California is sick—infantile remittent fever—for the past week has just been lying quiet & pale, eats literally nothing—it is pitiful, & throws a gloom over every thing—doctor comes every day, & sometimes twice a day—when I ask him about the chances, he is rather noncommittal—saying the disease in such a case as hers is expected to run fourteen days, before a turn for either better or worse—the fourteen days are up next Sunday—meanwhile she grows weaker & weaker—

I am middling well—My brother George has resumed carpentering4—he is well, & looks fine—I see him every day—the rest of the folks all well. I send my love to Charles Eldridge—same to Ashton—when you write tell me the latest from the baby & Mrs. Ashton. Send William the enclosed piece5—it is one of those I spoke of—When you write direct to me, Portland av. near Myrtle.6


Walt.


Notes:

1. Whitman must have arrived in Brooklyn early in October for "a month's furlough" (see Whitman's letter from October 15, 1865 ), and evidently returned to Washington on November 7 (see Whitman's letter from October 29, 1865 ). He went to Brooklyn in order to supervise the binding of Sequel to Drum-Taps, which was printed in Washington; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967), 353. [back]

2. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen O'Connor, who, with Eldridge and later Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. In 1872 Whitman would walk out on a debate with William over the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William established a separate residence. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)[back]

3. Mrs. Whitman arrived in Burlington, Vermont, on September 5, 1865. She wrote to Whitman on that date, as well as on September 11, 21, and 27 (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). She "found hanna quite as well and better than i expected." Mrs. Whitman returned on October 16 (see Whitman's letter of October 15, 1865 ). On July 16, 1865, Thomas Jefferson Whitman had described a long letter which Heyde had written to his mother: "He says he shall leave Han, and go out west—I wish he was in Hell—Mother of course is considerably exercised about it—and thinks she will go on there and bring Han home." [back]

4. After toying with several offers, including an appointment in the New York Custom House, George Washington Whitman decided to return to housebuilding. "I am quite sure," Jeff wrote to Walt Whitman on September 29, 1865, "that if he can keep devoted to his present undertaking he will make a handsome fortune in 8 or ten years—he certainly has the prospect of it." George had been mustered out in July. Nothing came of his plans to remain a commissioned officer in the regular army. [back]

5. Whitman enclosed a review of his work from the London Leader of June 30, 1860, for William D. O'Connor. O'Connor was so impressed that he planned to incorporate "a great deal of it" into his manuscript, The Good Gray Poet (13–14), which he was revising when he wrote on October 19, 1865: "But oh, Walt, the literary shortcomings of it oppress me. It is not the thing that should be said of your book—not the thing that it is in even me to say." At this time O'Connor had not found a publisher for his polemic. [back]

6. The letter is endorsed, "Ans'd."  The envelope for this letter bears the address: Mrs. E. M. O'Connor, | 326 H st. near Vermont av. | Washington, | D. C.   Postmark: "New York | Oct | 12; Carrier | Oct | 13 | 1865 (?) | (?) AM. [back]


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