Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 12 September 1889

Date: September 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02980

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, " the address is care Charles E Legg 146 Devonshire St: Boston Mass: ," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Breanna Himschoot, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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North Perry, Maine.
Sept. 12. 1889.

Dear Walt,

Thank you for papers sent, & for all loving thought. I hope you are "holding your own."

I must have gained a little here, for I sleep more, and have a better appetite. I am going to be weighed, I weighed 95 the day before I left Washington. I write now especially to tell you that I intend to leave here next Monday, Sept. 16, unless a storm should prevent. We have to go to Eastport 12 miles by wagon, & then take steamer to Boston. If it is stormy, Mrs. Porter1 says we must take the next boat, that would be Sept. 18. Wednesday. But in any case after you get this letter, my address will be care of my nephew in Boston which I will give in a separate slip. I shall make a few short stops with nieces & others till I return home, & as my nephew is a fixture, he will forward any thing to me wherever I am. I shall not go home till into October I think. We have had such a wet & rainy summer there that I know I better wait a while. I dread, dear Walt, I can't tell any one how much I dread the going back home. I say home, but the sense of loneliness that overtakes me when I think of going is heart-sickening. And the uncertainty of all adds to it. If I were sure that I could make any arrangement to keep a home, I should feel better, but all is so cloudy & misty. But I try to keep up a good heart, & not to worry my friends with my troubles.

I have one hope that I am clinging to, and that is that my sister Mrs. Channing2 may come on. She has not been East since they went to Cal. five years next month, & she wants to come if their finances will allow, & it will be the greatest comfort & help to me, as she can advise me better than any one, what to do, & help me about disposing of William's3 papers &c. He left all to me absolutely, but I should be so glad of help in many matters, & wish I had any one near at hand who could advise with me.

Do you think there is any good picture of William? one that you really like? Appleton has sent for me for the Encyclopedia,4 & I have not the one that I like best here with me, & the best of the late ones is not to my mind. How do you like the one in "The Great Cryptogram?"5

Thanks for the papers. Critic came yesterday with the Hawthorne letters. I was glad to see them.

You will see what a remote place this is, & how protected the shore when I tell you that the heavy sea of last Sunday & Monday did not reach us. It is the only seashore place that I ever touched where there is never any surf.

Good by.

I send my address on the enclosed slip.

With love always—
Nelly O'Connor.


I have a picture of William taken long ago that I like very much but would it be as satisfactory to the friends generally as the later ones, taken four years ago?

If you are able to write, I should like your thought in this matter.

Nelly O'Connor.

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. 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, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

2. Mary Jane Channing, born Tarr (1828–1897?) was the sister of Ellen M. O'Connor. [back]

3. 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]

4. Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, a six-volume reference work, was published between 1887 and 1889, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Volume 4, published in 1888, contained a short biography of William Douglas O'Connor. [back]

5. The bookThe Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon's Cipher in Shakespeare's Plays, authored by the politician and writer Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (1831–1901), was published in 1888. Donnelly was well known for his belief that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea he argued in his book. In his pamphlet Mr. Donnelly's Reviewers (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1889), O'Connor had attempted to defend Donnelly's Baconian argument. [back]


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