Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 10 November 1863

Date: November 10, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00940

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

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "E M O'Connor & a note from Mrs Cooper Nov '63," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Tim Jackson, Kevin McMullen, and Nicole Gray

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Nov. 10.
400 L Street.

Did you arrive home safely, dear Walt? and did you vote? did you vote seven time "as the Count did when he first become a citizen of these United States?1 If not in your own person, I hope that you caused as many as seven raving Democrats to vote right this time, however as the result was all right we argue that you did your part.

Now, now, Walt, are you aware that your "ten days" expire to-morrow? Not that I at all expect to see you then for ten days would be a short time to stay at home after nearly a year's absence,—but we have been counting the days in the very faintest hope that you might come then.

Mr. Eldridge comes as usual every evening, and we always ask each other—"have you heard from Walt?"2 He has sent you two letters, one the next day after you left, and one since. We have drank your health on several occasions, and in a variety of liquids, tea on one occasion.

By the way, all of the Piatts including the sweet Patsy & the baby have dined with us since you left.3 I shall save all details to tell you when you come. But you were asked for, and we all wished you present.Of course Mr. Eldridge & Mrs. Cooper formed two of the dinner party.4 Mrs. C. is still with me, being detained much longer than she expected to be, for which I am very glad. I shall not know how to get along without her, especially while you are gone. She is very bright and keeps us alive, she knows how to cook nice things too, and has exercised her genius for me several times, and if you will come back before she is gone, we will have a nice dinner for you.

I fully intended to be able to tell you something about your boys in hospital, but I have had so bad a cold since you left and such an annoying troublesome cough with it, that I have not been able to go to see them. They must miss you sadly, poor boys, I pity them.

How did you find all at home? Did your good mother look as when you left her? & did you remember to give her my love? how did little Hattie look? had she grown much? & what do you think of the new baby? did you kiss them both for me? If not you must.

How about all the other members of the family? I hope you found all better than you expected. You know I feel personally acquainted with each member of your family.

And what about your New York boys? Of course you have seen all, and have had that great time which we are to hear all about when you come back. Indeed, won't you have "lots" to tell us! You know you must come back prepared to give us a full account.

Have you seen Mrs. Price.5 I wrote her the very day you left. Do you find her much worse than when you left last year?

And Walt, have you seen Mr. Howells?6 If not I beg that you will, and with all the skill and talent of which you are master do what you can to disenchant him with those people. I know more about it than when you were here, and I assure you that you will be rendering a service not only to Mrs. H. & the family, but to all who care for him if you can only get him out of this. If he could but know the real truth in regard to "the great head" and leader of the reform it would surely open his eyes. He evidently thinks Mr. A. a "great light" & a saint of a man, sincere and true. Oh! can't he be enlightened? It is awful, and unless his eyes are soon opened I don't see what will be the end. I depend on youWalt, to see him, at any rate, & your own intuition will tell you whether you can do more, but I feel that you can. He has great regard for your opinions of people and things.

William is well as usual, he is at the office or would send lots of love.7 Mrs. Cooper has gone in to the other house to dress for dinner, or she too, would send love. Do you know that in the innocence of her heart she fully believes that you are going to stop and see her on your return through Philadelphia, and I have not the heart to undeceive her, and tell her what a promising youth you are so I don't see but that you really must make the promised visit,—& you would have a very good time, I assure you of that beforehand. She wants me to go home with her, but I doubt if I shall. Can't afford it.

By the way, one bit of intelligence in regard to our dear friend and neighbor Gwynne I must tell you.8 They think of moving & renting the house up here, & a lady whom I know came to look at it. G. was much pleased at the idea of having such a nice family as hers for tenants, & offered to rent it for one hundred dollars a month unfurnished. The lady politely declined & told him that she rents her present house furnished for that sum. Mrs. G. & the new baby are well. I can't think of any more news to tell you.

To tell you that we miss you awfully would not be news would it? You expected that, but I do have a most uncomfortable sense of "goneness" all the time, & I shall welcome you home here very heartily.

Can I do any thing for you in your absence?

Don't forget the three things you were to bring for my especial benefit. The picture, letter, & "Drum Taps"—

Now good bye—and very much love from us all. I have said nothing of Jeannie, she is not as well as I want to see her looking, she is out playing, or I would ask her what message to you. She asks for you often, and hopes you will soon be back.

With love always,
Nelly O'Connor.

Do write very soon, & direct to Corner of 14th & L Sts. The two letters Mr. E. has sent you, are letters that come for you. How is your head now? Your hearing? better I hope.


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, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." 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. Count Adam Gurowski (1805–1866), a Polish exile, published an eccentric three-volume Diary (1862–1866), a day-by-day account of the war written with a marked partiality toward extreme abolitionists. The Count was a colorful figure: he covered his lost eye with a "green blinder," and "he had a Roman head...a powerful topknot, in and out: people always stopped to look at him" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:79, 96). William D. O'Connor, who apparently translated Gurowski's manuscripts into English (see the letter from Gurowski to O'Connor in Feinberg), reported to Whitman on August 13, 1864, that "he is a madman with lucid intervals"—he had attempted "to discipline the firemen with a pistol." Whitman maintained to Traubel in 1888 that "he was truly a remarkable, almost phenomenal, man," and that "he was, no doubt, very crazy, but also very sane" (3:79, 340). Ellen O'Connor related in a letter on November 24, 1863, that the Count had said to her recently: "My Gott, I did not know that [Walt Whitman] was such a poet, tell him so, I have been trying every where to find him to tell him myself." In the last volume of the Diary, Gurowski placed Whitman's name in the first category of his threefold evaluation of persons "mentioned in this volume": "Praise," "Half and Half," and "Blame." In his entry for April 18, 1864, the Count referred to Whitman as among "the most original and genuine American hearts and minds" (187). In a footnote (372–373), appended September 12, 1865, Gurowski abused Harlan, who had "shown himself to be animated by a spirit of narrow-minded persecution that would honor the most fierce Spanish or Roman inquisitor." Gurowski was praised by Robert Penn Warren, in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work: The "Paris Review" Interviews, (New York: Viking, 1958), 189. See also LeRoy Fischer, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 36 (1949–1950): 415–434, and the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement One (New York: Scribner, 1944). [back]

2. In December 1862, on his way to visit his brother George at Fredericksburg, Virginia, 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. [back]

3. John J. Piatt met Whitman on New Year's Day, 1863. Piatt was a versifier and author of Poems by Two Friends in collaboration with W. D. Howells; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 43. On February 12, 1866, he wrote a sympathetic account of Whitman and The Good Gray Poet for the Columbus (Ohio) Morning Journal; see Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades, 10, and William Sloane Kennedy, The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecraft Press, 1926), 17. The Washington Directory of 1866 listed Piatt as a clerk in the Treasury Department; according to Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades, 12, he was later librarian of the House of Representatives and then consul at Cork. [back]

4. 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. 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]

5. 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." [back]

6. Charles Joseph Howells, according to entries in New York Directories, 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]

7. Ellen O'Connor refers to her husband, William O'Connor. [back]

8. Carey Gwynne was listed in the 1866 Directory as a clerk in the Treasury Department. [back]


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