Title: Walt Whitman to Abby H. Price, 1 August 1866
Date: August 1, 1866
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:282-283. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Whitman Archive ID: pml.00015
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Janel Cayer, Brett Barney, Kathryn Kruger, Vanessa Steinroetter, Nicole Gray, and Alyssa Olson
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, Washington,
Aug. 1, 1866.1
I have just received your letter, & respond immediately, because by what you have written, it may be that you can do me a great favor—I have obtained leave of absence, & am coming to New York, principally to bring out a new & much better edition of Leaves of Grass complete—that unkillable work!—Mother's apartments in Pacific st are very limited, & I had decided to get a lodging room in N. Y. or Brooklyn, so as not to incommode my folks at home—taking my meals at the restaurants, & home &c—leaving my time free for my work &c—Now have you such a room for me, at a fair price? I hope you have, for that would be very agreeable—Your going off for a week or two would not make any difference—as a lodging is my main object—write immediately & let me know, as my leave of absence will probably date from Monday next, 6th inst—
Mrs. O'Connor2 has gone west, with her mother, for the summer—Wm O'Connor3 is well—We all speak of you—The weather is almost perfect here now-a-days—I am writing this by my window in the south front of the Treasury building, looking down the beautiful grounds in front, and across & down the Potomac for miles, & across to the green hills all along Arlington Heights, very beautiful & cool—a view of great expanse, & very comforting every way—also a pleasant breeze coming in steadily from the river.
I have an agreeable situation here—labor moderate—& plenty of leisure—My principal work is to make (from rough drafts) the letters, answers, law opinions, &c that go from the Attorney General to the President, or to the Secretary of State, & the other Heads of Departments—The rule is that none but such officers as just named have a right to require information from Attorney Generals—So you see I have to do only with the big men—
There is one regular Soldiers Hospital left here, in K street—I go there once or twice every week—it is still a great privilege to go—You would be amazed, as well as distressed, to know how many old wounds are lingering along yet—youth & hope struggling against fate—but the latter, alas! almost always conquering at last—it is indeed a great privilege to soothe the lingering days & months of many of these cases.
Mother is quite well, & comfortable—considering her age—brothers, sisters & the children, all well, at last accounts.
Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Whitman and with Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860 the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor from November 15, 1863, Whitman declared with emphasis, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply."
1. The envelope for this letter bears the address: Mrs. Abby H. Price, | 279 East 55th street, | New York City. It is postmarked: Washington D. C. | Aug | 4. [back]
2. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen "Nelly" M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. Ellen O'Connor 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. 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 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, 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] pp. 513). [back]