Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 12 November 1891

Date: November 12, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00713

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), 5:264. 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

Camden NJ1
Nov: 12 '91

The book2 came all right this mn'g—seems to me a good piece of typographic work, type, paper, press work, & binding—pleases my book & printer eyes3—And how are you getting along & satisfied there? (Lots of friends more than you know of are asking)—I myself still hold out—lots of [illegible]aches & sufferings—but mainly fair spirits—sitting this moment in big chair with g't wolfskin spread back—Traubel4 here last evn'g—he & wife5 well—Dr Bucke6 well—

God bless you
Walt Whitman

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. In 1891, Ellen O'Connor left Washington DC to live in Providence, Rhode Island. This letter is addressed: Mrs: O'Connor | 34 Benefit St: | Providence | R I. It is postmarked: Camden, N J. | Nov 12 | (?) PM | 91. [back]

2. Three Tales by William Douglas O'Connor, with a preface by Whitman, was issued in late 1891, even though the publication date was listed as 1892. [back]

3. Ellen O'Connor replied to Whitman on November 14 and provided the poet an explanation of why she had cut some of Whitman's prefact to Three Tales. She wrote: "I cut out in your preface what was said of the children; it seemed to be, on the whole, better not to speak of the family, but only of William." For the excised passage of Whitman's preface, see Complete Prose Works (New York, D. Appleton, 1910), 690. [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. Horace Traubel was married to Anne Montgomerie Traubel (b. 1864–1954). [back]

6. 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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