Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 29 January 1889

Date: January 29, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00623

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), 4:277. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden
Evn'g Jan: 29 '891

Thanks for the letter giving me word abt Wm's present cond'n2 & hope indeed it will improve soon—Two months ago I was in a woful & horrible plight, bladder trouble, gastric malady & weak as a rag—& I have comparatively got over all & comparatively easier & freer—(tho' bad enough yet)—I expect Dr B[ucke]3 here next week but not certain—Best love & cheer to both.


Walt Whitman


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. This letter is addressed: Mrs: O'Connor | 1015 O Street N W | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jan 29 | 8 PM | 89. [back]

2. In her letter to Whitman of January 28, 1889, Mrs. O'Connor spelled out at length the gravity of William's condition: "He feels discouraged for the first time, & says the outlook is very gloomy." [back]

3. 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]


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