Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 26 September 1889

Date: September 26, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02981

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.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Breanna Himschoot, Ian Faith, Zainab Saleh, and Stephanie Blalock

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Care Chas. E. Legg,1
146 Devonshire St.2
Boston, Mass.
Sept. 26. 1889.

Dear Walt,

I sent thanks by Mr. Traubel3 in my letter to him for the photograph of William,4 & also for the pictures of the "laughing Philosopher,"5 & the note enclosed. I have a photog. like it & will send it, with another, to Rossiter Johnson6 & let him select. I return yours.7 Send me a postal card that I may know if you get it safely. I have been ill since I came here (to Nantucket) but am better now. I am with a widow lady friend for a short time, but soon expect to be near Boston, & so please send to the address at the head of this letter. Glad that you had such a pleasant visit with Sir Edwin Arnold.8 You know he married the daughter of our dear friend William Henry Channing9 who used to be in Washington during the war.

I did receive Liberty with Horace Traubel's article10 & wrote him at once thanking him for it. It is noble and generous & touched me most deeply. I have written to Tucker11 asking him to save six copies for me till I go to Boston, & can call or send for them. I hope Mr. Traubel got my letter.

How goes it with you?

Send a line.

With love always—
Nelly O'Connor.

I send potog. by this mail.

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. Charles E. Legg (1847–1924) was a member of the Boston Stock Exchange at the time O'Connor wrote this letter to Whitman. The address of 146 Devonshire Street was the location of "R. Gardner Chase & Co., Bankers and Brokers," of which Legg was a partner. Legg went on to open his own broker firm with his son Allen H. Legg. [back]

2. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: NANTUCKET | SEP | 27 | 12PM | 1889 | MASS; CAMDEN N.J. | SEP | 28 | 12 PM | 1889 | REC'D. [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the mid-1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. "The Laughing Philosopher," one of the most famous photographs of Walt Whitman, was taken by G.C. Cox in 1887. [back]

6. Rossiter Johnson (1840–1931) was the author of a wide variety of books, such as Phaeton Rogers, the editor of several important encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, and was one of the first editors to publish "pocket" editions of the classics (Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, "Collection Overview: Rossiter Johnson Papers"). [back]

7. On September 15, 1889 Whitman sent the last picture William O'Connor gave him of himself in response to Nelly's letter of September 12, 1889 asking for advice on which picture of her husband she should submit to Appleton's Encyclopedia[back]

8. On September 12, 1889, Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904) wrote from Washington, D. C. requesting permission to visit Whitman. (The Boston Traveller on October 5, 1889, however reprinted a purported letter from Arnold to Whitman dated September 12, written from New York, in a flamboyant style not found in the actual letter.) For an account of Arnold's visit, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, September 12, 1889 and Saturday, September 14, 1889: "My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering." Arnold published his own version of the interview in Seas and Lands (1891), in which he averred that the two read from Leaves of Grass, surrounded by Mrs. Davis, knitting, a handsome young man (Wilkins), and "a big setter." There are at least two additional accounts of Arnold's visit with Whitman; "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Times (Philadelphia, PA) on September 15, 1889, and a different article, also titled "Arnold and Whitman" was published anonymously in The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA) on September 26, 1889. Arnold was best known for his long narrative poem, The Light of Asia (1879), which tells the life story and philosophy of Gautama Buddha and was largely responsible for introducing Buddhism to Western audiences. [back]

9. William Henry Channing (1810–1884) was a Unitarian minister, writer, and philosopher, who oversaw the Unitarian church in Washington DC during the Civil War, when the O'Connors came to know him. His daughter Jennie Channing (d. 1889) was Sir Edwin Arnold's second wife. [back]

10. Liberty (September 7, 1889) carried Horace Traubel's brief obituary for O'Connor. The obituary is reprinted in Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, July 1, 1889. Traubel also wrote another obituary for Unity, 23 (June 29, 1889), 138. [back]

11. Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (1854–1939) was an American activist and editor of the anarchist periodical Liberty, which ran from 1881 to 1908. [back]


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