Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 11 February [1874]

Date: February 11, 1874

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00327

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:275–277. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

431 Stevens st.
cor West.
Camden, N. Jersey,
Feb. 11, 4 p.m.1

Dear Nelly,

Your letter of yesterday came this morning. Yours of 5th came safe—Sunday night late, (on returning from spending the evening, so you see I gad about some—)2 I found it waiting for me, & read it all through. Both letters are welcome. Thank you particularly for the slip from the Nation,3 which I had not seen nor heard of. Nelly, I looked some five or six weeks ago for Mrs. Banfield's letter—& now day before yesterday a second hunt—but cannot find it, & fear it has been destroyed or lost—I am distressed that I cannot find & return it, as I know you think so much of your friend's letters—(Besides moving in this house from the former one—I have twice hurriedly destroyed a large mass of letters & MSS.—to be ready for what might happen)4

I am indeed interested in what you write about Mrs. Huntington5—it does not surprise me that she meets emergencies, &c. so splendidly & expands to greater womanly beauty & development—I always thought it in her to do so—Nelly, when you next see her give her my love—I return Willie's6 picture—dear child—it has pleased me much—I held it a long time in my hand & thought of H street—

Nelly, I think very highly everyway of little Harold's picture—it is, to begin with, one of the best photos ever taken, & it seems so beautiful, & a real man-child—I liked it much, & have always kept it where I could see it. (Nelly, did you wish me to return it? I have overlooked—or forgotten—any request to that effect in the letter sending it)—

I send my love to Mrs. Brownell—also to Garry Howard7 when you see her—(what you say of her in your letter I fully endorse as my mature conviction—she is a good, tender girl—true as steel.) Nelly dear, I am guiltless of the cologne present—(don't know any thing about Peter Doyle, in this case)—

Dear Nelly, I feel that you are—or have been—under the depressing influences of Mr Dilles's8 and Mr. Townsend's9 deaths—If it were eligible you should come frequently & spend the days with me, to cheer you up—meantime take early opportunities to get a change of scene of surroundings—& often—

It is very fine here, to-day—I have been hobbling out—plenty of snow on the ground—but air, sun & sky delightful—


nearly 5—It is near sundown, very fine, & I am going out—as I like to be on the river, (on those strong boats crashing through the ice now plentiful on the Delaware)—I shall probably cross to Phil—& mail this letter thence.


1. This letter is endorsed, "Ans'd." Its envelope bears the address, "Mrs. E. M. O'Connor, | 1015 O st—near 11th N. W. | Washington, | D.C." It is postmarked: "Philadelphia | Feb | 11 | 11 PM | Pa." [back]

2. Whitman visited the Johnstons on Sunday; for John and Rebecca Johnston, see Whitman's February 9, 1875 letter. Once again Whitman's life fell into a pattern; in Washington he had visited the O'Connors on Sunday. [back]

3. In a review of Joaquin Miller's Songs of the Sunlands in The Nation on January 29, 1874, an anonymous writer sharply criticized Whitman's catalogs, mystic raptures, and lack of restraint. On February 14, 1874, Whitman sent a manuscript entitled "Is Walt Whitman's Poetry Poetical?" to John Burroughs, who was to send it to the editor of the magazine. If Burroughs submitted the essay, it was not published. It is reprinted by Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 107–110. [back]

4. Whitman's statement explains why letters from Charles Eldridge, Peter Doyle, Ellen O'Connor, and others are not extant. [back]

5. Whitman perhaps refers here to the widow of William S. Huntington (whose death was reported in Whitman's March 29, 1872 letter to Peter Doyle), or the widow of Joshua, a clerk in the Third Auditor's office. [back]

6. Whitman probably refers here to Huntington's son. [back]

7. Whitman refers here to Garaphelia Howard, mentioned in Whitman's January 6, 1865 letter to William O'Connor and in Whitman's February 3, 1874 letter to Ellen O'Connor. [back]

8. Whitman refers here to Israel Dille, clerk in the Internal Revenue Bureau, whose death was mentioned in Whitman's January 16, 1874 letter to Ellen M. O'Connor. [back]

9. Henry Townsend, an employee in the First Auditor's office, died on February 7, 1874; he lived at 1013 O Street, next door to Ellen O'Connor.

The allusion to Townsend's death establishes the year. [back]


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