Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 2 August 1887

Date: August 2, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02947

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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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1015 O St.
Washington D.C.
Aug. 2d 1887.

Dear Walt,

William is on his way to Bar Harbor, Maine, care Dr. Kinnear, Wall's cottage. Wm. was disposed to try Dr. K. as soon as he heard of his method, which is Dr. Chapman's, with which Wm. was familiar, applications of heat & cold to the spine.1 Probably Wm. wrote you, he said he should, when he read your letter to me. The Ashtons were very anxious to have him try Dr. Kinnear, & William feels that he ought—to try any one who gives him reasonable assurance of help. He says he wants "either his legs, or wings," as locomotion of some sort is desirable.

I write at this moment to ask you to please not tell any one where Wm. is, I mean not any one who will speak of it, he asked me to caution all the friends; above all he says don't let it get into the papers, for already some vile creatures are grumbling at his vacation; so you will kindly bear it in mind. Mr. Kimball2 thought he better not let it be known. He (W.) said he should make Dr. K. tell him at once whether he could help him. He shows a deal of energy in starting off as he does, & as to his courage it is simply sublime, & he puts all my theoretical trust to shame by his practical application of it. A friend here offered to go all the way to Bar Harbor with him, but he said it was all "nonsense", that he found plenty of people ready to jump to help him, his crutch is very appealing, & now he uses that & his cane both. At any rate, he is out of this awful heat & sultriness. I hope you keep up under it. To-day it is raining here, for the first time.

Dear Walt, the other day I found a package of letters belonging to you carefully put away, the Rossetti3 correspondence, & as a part of history valuable, & I return them to you to-day by this mail, but in another & large envelope.

Let me hear from you soon if you get them safely. I send all but had to separate the bundle, as it was too thick for my envelope.

With all good wishes, as ever,
Nelly O'Connor.

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Walt Whitman's staunchest defenders. Walt may have mentioned a potential visit by Nelly and her daughter during his May visit to Brooklyn, though whether a visit came near this time is not known from his or Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters. Walt Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he spoke often in his letters of their daughter Jean (called "Jenny" or "Jeannie"). Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break off their friendship in late 1872 over a disagreement about Reconstruction policies and the role of emancipated slaves, Nelly would remain friendly with Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)."


1. Apparently O'Connor attempted to keep his stay with Dr. Kinnear a secret. The "Dr. Chapman" Ellen is referring to is likely Nathaniel Chapman (1780–1853), the founding president of the American Medical Association who argued that certain diseases could be caused by "augmented or diminished . . . animal heat" (Elements of Therapeutics and Materia Medica [Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1823], 124). [back]

2. Sumner Increase Kimball (1834–1923), the superintendent of the United States Life-Saving Service and employer of O'Connor. [back]

3. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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