Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 9–10 March [1889]

Date: March 9–10, [1889]

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00654

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), 4:300–301. 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, Breanna Himschoot, Brandon James O'Neil, and Stephanie Blalock




328 Mickle Street Camden
March 9 P M1

Y'r card came this mn'g & makes me gloomy all day2—was hoping from Dr's3 and Horace's4 acc't's there would likely be a good, a long continuation of "let up" and easier time—& hope indeed when this comes, there will be again—

Matters here ab't "the same subject continued" as my former writing—I don't see much of Dr B—he is engrossed with the meter business5—& has many acquaintances & invitations—& much to do any how—expects to return to Canada early the coming week.

Sunday noon March 10

A raw not clear day—Dr B and Horace call'd—nothing specially new—much sympathy for Wm6 & prayers & hopes he is better much—Dr B is probably to return home within a day or so—much depends on him there—I am suffering among the rest with a bad obstinate lingering cold in the head—sitting here alone by the stove as I write—

Best love—
Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
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, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: E M O'Connor | 1015 O Street N W | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: (?) | Mar 10 | 5 PM | 89 (?); Washington, Rec'd. | Mar 11 | 2(?) AM | 89 | 7. [back]

2. On March 8, 1889 Mrs. O'Connor wrote that two days earlier William "had five of those epileptic seizures . . . going from one to another without recovering consciousness" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, March 9, 1889). [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]

4. 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]

5. Bucke and his brother-in-law William John Gurd were designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. [back]

6. 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]


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