Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 19 December 1888
Date: December 19, 1888
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:250. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library
Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00603
Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
Evn'g Dec: 19 '88
Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. 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 also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).
1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: O'Connor | 1015 O Street | Washington D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Dec 19 | 8 PM | (?); Washington, Rec'd. | Dec 20 | 7 AM | 88 | 3. [back]
2. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]
3. On the following day, Ellen O'Connor wrote at length of her husband's physical and emotional state: "I am sorry that I have not better news to give you of William. He has failed very much in the last six weeks, indeed I date the marked change for the worse from the paralysis of the eye lid, & that was the last of Sept. but a very marked change for the worse since Nov. 23d. No one is as well aware of it as I am, for I see him at his worst, as well as his best. I am his sole & only nurse, & help to dress, undress & bathe him, & he is under no restraint to say how he does feel to me, tho' he always puts the best face on things to every one, & is always ready to joke about himself & often makes me laugh when I am ready to cry. . . . Until lately, too, he has had the most wonderful courage, & would not give up, but it is not so all the time now. Still, there is one thing in his favor, (if one so regards it) & that is that he is still determined to live. I never saw such clinging to this life, in any one; & he still feels that if the right Doctor could be found that he could be made entirely well. He counted up the other day, & found that he had had fifteen doctors. . . . But his deepest unhappiness now is that he has not yet been able to get his article published which he wrote in defense of Ignatius Loyola Donnelly [Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers]” (see O'Connor's letter to Whitman of December 20, 1888). [back]