Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 9 May 1889

Date: May 9, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02977

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: Kirby Little, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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May 9, 1889.
1015 O St. N. W.

Dear Walt,

The sad end is come. William1 passed peacefully to rest at 2 A. M. this day. He failed very much the last week, & more on Sunday, & from that day on.

It is sad because he so wanted to get well, & to the last thought he was going to recover.

But he lies now the image of perfect rest & peace, & more beautiful than I ever saw him, & looks as he did when I knew him first so long ago, & the late loss of flesh in the face has brought back the very look of youth.

Will you kindly inform Dr. Bucke?2 I can not write him yet.

I am indeed alone, both children, my father & mother, all four of my brothers are gone. What a group to welcome me when I shall join them!

Last Sunday was the anniversary of our darling Jeannie's3 passing on, & I almost thought William would go that very day.

As ever—
Nelly O'Connor.


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 temporarily break off their friendship 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. 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)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. Jean was the daughter of William D. and Ellen O'Connor. William speaks often in his letters of Jean, calling her by her nicknames of "Jenny" or "Jeannie." [back]


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