Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 16 February 1888

Date: February 16, 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), 4:151. 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.00703

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Feb: 16 '881

Card rec'd—thanks—every word is welcom'd & appreciated

—All ab't the same with me as of late—severely cold here—

—Dr Bucke2 is in Florida to return in ten days—An old Quaker has paid me a visit to-day3 (I am yet writing my Elias Hicks4 paper)

Best love to you & William5
W W


Correspondent:
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 Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This postal card is addressed: Mrs: O'Connor | 1015 O Street | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Feb (?) | 4 30 PM | 88; Washington, Rec'd | Feb | 17 | 11 PM | 1888 | 1. [back]

2. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Whitman is probably referring to David Newport, with whom Whitman had a "talk ab't Elias Hicks" on February 15 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) was a Quaker from Long Island whose controversial teachings led to a split in the Religious Society of Friends in 1827, a division that was not resolved until 1955. Hicks had been a friend of Whitman's father and grandfather, and Whitman himself was a supporter and proponent of Hicks's teachings, writing about him in Specimen Days (see "Reminiscence of Elias Hicks") and November Boughs (see "Elias Hicks, Notes (such as they are)"). For more on Hicks and his influence on Whitman, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 37–39. [back]

5. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor often complained about the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. However, his government work 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, most notably in his pamphlet, "The Good Gray Poet." 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], 513). For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889][back]


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