Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, [8 April 1891]

Date: [April 8, 1891]

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00711

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), 5:189. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock

Yes1 Nelly the magazine came all straight2—We all like the story—so much in the turn of it reminds me of William3 & the days that are gone—We are of course more whetted than ever to have the full book fr'm H M & Co:4—Is it yet in abeyance?—And you, & how are you getting along? Nicely I hope.—H T5 is going over his L S books & more & more impress'd with the sketches6

I have had a bad winter & have yet—grip, catarrh of bowels, bladder trouble &c: &c:—have not been outdoors for ten weeks—but sit up here & read & write much of the time—but fearful inertia & loss of interest, grip, or zest—Have a good doctor & take medicine daily—am printing the little 2d annex, "Good-Bye my Fancy"7—reading the proofs & putting it through slowly—Should not get along with it or anything without Horace Traubel—comes every day, & is invaluable—Dr B8 is still the same in London Canada—I believe expects to come this way (& to Washington) in three weeks—Fine sunny day as I write—had my breakfast, a rare fried egg, Graham wet toast & coffee—my supper at 5—no dinner—pretty fair spirits—often think of you there & the former times—Write when you can.

God bless you—
Walt Whitman

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) 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 African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: O'Connor | 112 M Street N W | Washington D C. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | APR 8 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. William D. O'Connor's "The Brazen Android" was published in two parts The Atlantic Monthly: Part 1, vol. 67, no. 402, April 1891, pp. 433–454; Part 2, vol. 67, no. 403, May 1891, pp. 577–599. [back]

3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. 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. On January 2, 1891, Ellen O'Connor informed Whitman that Houghton, Mifflin & Company was planning to publish her late husband William D. O'Connor's story "The Brazen Android" in The Atlantic Monthly in April and May. They also planned to publish a collection that included three of O'Connor's stories and a preface by Whitman. Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter was published the following year, in 1892. [back]

5. 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 late 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]

6. See Whitman's letter to Richard Maurice Bucke of March 30–31, 1891[back]

7. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy" in Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. 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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