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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 24 November 1863

 loc_jc.00621_large.jpg Dear Walt,—

Mrs. Cooper and Mr. Eldridge left yesterday morning as they intended, and as you see by this I did not go.1 I hardly think that you did either, so I will venture to send to you.

I have some news to tell you. Mr. Howells came home with his wife last Saturday from New York.2 He has decided not to go to Idaho, and does not know yet what he will do. But he says he shall have no trouble in making it all right with the Government. About the other matter I do not know any more. I agree  loc_jc.00622_large.jpg loc_jc.00623_large.jpgwith you Walt, that in time he must see right through those people, & if it were not for the suffering it causes his wife, I should by all means say, let him go there, see them, be with them and live it out. Perhaps it is the only thing to do any way.

Time will prove that.

How I long to see you. Are you going to be here by Thursday, Thanksgiving? I wish I knew, for I would get a good big turkey and we would have a jolly time.

I miss Mrs. C. very much. By the way, when you return to Washington if it is not too much  loc_jc.00624_large.jpg loc_jc.00625_large.jpgout of your way, will you stop at Mrs. Cooper's and get a small parcel she is to have ready for me? It will save the expressage, and if you can do so without too much trouble I shall be very glad. She wants you to stop very much, and you would have a good time, & see Mr. & Mrs. Davis her brother & sister, both of whom are great admirers of yours.

I enjoyed your letter very much, did I tell you so in my note? I am better of my cough, which has been very bad, and I shall do well I have no doubt, but I get very tired of being half  loc_jc.00626_large.jpg loc_jc.00627_large.jpgwell, I would like to be in perfect health like you—how splendid it is! You ought to do grand things with such a grand body.

I am sorry to hear such poor accounts of your brother Andrew—I hoped you would find him better. But for your mother's good health and vigor I rejoice with you. It must be a compensation for all to see her so nobly bearing up. You are rich indeed in having such a noble, grand mother. I hope I shall know her sometime, also your sister Martha & all. Are they going to let you name the baby California? She is a  loc_jc.00628_large.jpg loc_jc.00629_large.jpgfine baby, I am sure.

Your boys there will hold on to you till the last minute I know, and how they will miss you. I quite envy you the Opera, I wish I were there with you for a week to go around. Would we not have some good times? I am sure we would.

Have you seen Mrs. Price any more?3 I hope you will, for I know she counted so much on seeing you.

Last Sunday we were out walking & met the Count, the first time since you left.4 He immediately asked for you, & I told him where you were—he asked if you  loc_jc.00630_large.jpg loc_jc.00631_large.jpgwere coming back &c. & when I told him that I had heard & should write you, he said "My Gott, I did not know that he was such a poet, tell him so, I have been trying every where to find him to tell him myself." So you see. He said tell him he must write more poems.

I wish that you were back here in your old room for my sake, for I miss you & shall.

I should have gone to the Hospital today if it had not rained, and I shall go to-morrow I think, rain or shine. I could not very well while Mrs. Cooper was here, for we kept loc_jc.00632_large.jpg loc_jc.00633_large.jpgthinking that every day would be her last here.

I count upon your return, and on our all being together much, very much this winter, and on some good talks, & good times reading your Drum Taps. You must publish that book.

William very often wishes for your return and wants to see you.

Good bye.

With love from us all. Your friend Nelly O'Connor.  loc_jc.00634_large.jpg  loc_jc.00619_large.jpg E M O'Connor  loc_jc.00620_large.jpg

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, and he speaks often in his letters of their daughter Jean, by nickname "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break 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 also Dashae E. Lott, "William Douglas O'Connor," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed., (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. In December 1862, on his way to visit his brother George at Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Charles W. Eldridge, who was now a clerk in the office of the army paymaster. After he had seen for himself that George had not been severely wounded, he returned to Washington, which was to be his home until 1873. Eldridge obtained a desk for Whitman in the office of Major Lyman Hapgood, the army paymaster. The identity of Mrs. Cooper is unclear. A Mrs. Cooper is mentioned in Whitman's notation on Ellen O'Connor's letter of November 10, 1863. This is undoubtedly the Hattie B. Cooper (listed in the Directory as C. H. B. Cooper, "gentlewoman") who in an undated letter sent a "Christmas Greeting" to Whitman—"from one who has the heart—but not the head—of a poet, and consequently feels a sincere admiration and reverence for those Gifted Mortals, who possess both" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). Fred Vaughan referred to who is likely a different Mrs. Cooper on March 27, 1860; the Mrs. Cooper of Vaughan's letters was the mother of his roommate Robert "Bob" Cooper after Vaughan left Whitman's Classon Avenue apartment. [back]
  • 2. Charles Joseph Howells, according to entries in New York Directories, must have been versatile (and perhaps eccentric): in 1864–1865 he was an "inventor," in 1865–1866 an inspector in the Custom House, in 1866–1867 simply an "inspector," and in 1867–1868 a seller of hairpins. [back]
  • 3. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn (see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967], 199–200). The couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Whitman and with Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860 the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor from November 15, 1863, Whitman declared with emphasis, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply." [back]
  • 4. Count Adam Gurowski (1805–1866), a Polish exile, published an eccentric three-volume Diary (1862–1866), a day-by-day account of the war written with a marked partiality toward extreme abolitionists. The Count was a colorful figure: he covered his lost eye with a "green blinder," and "he had a Roman head...a powerful topknot, in and out: people always stopped to look at him" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:79, 96). William D. O'Connor, who apparently translated Gurowski's manuscripts into English (see the letter from Gurowski to O'Connor in Feinberg), reported to Whitman on August 13, 1864, that "he is a madman with lucid intervals"—he had attempted "to discipline the firemen with a pistol." Whitman maintained to Traubel in 1888 that "he was truly a remarkable, almost phenomenal, man," and that "he was, no doubt, very crazy, but also very sane" (3:79, 340). In the last volume of the Diary, Gurowski placed Whitman's name in the first category of his threefold evaluation of persons "mentioned in this volume": "Praise," "Half and Half," and "Blame." In his entry for April 18, 1864, the Count referred to Whitman as among "the most original and genuine American hearts and minds" (187). In a footnote (372–373), appended September 12, 1865, Gurowski abused Harlan, who had "shown himself to be animated by a spirit of narrow-minded persecution that would honor the most fierce Spanish or Roman inquisitor." Gurowski was praised by Robert Penn Warren, in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work: The "Paris Review" Interviews, (New York: Viking, 1958), 189. See also LeRoy Fischer, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 36 (1949–1950): 415–434, and the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement One (New York: Scribner, 1944). [back]
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