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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 24 July 1864

 loc.00945.001.jpg Dear Walt,

I was at the Boat at 2 Wednesday afternoon and we sailed at 5.1 I hoped to see you, but feared you would not be able to go over. I was all the more sorry not to see you, and I inferred from it that you were too unwell to come over. Mr. Conway, Martin, F.2 went to the boat with me & remained an hour or so. Mr. Howells3 having business here, made his arrangements  loc.00945.002.jpgto come that evening, so I had company, but I had hoped for a good long talk with you, & hoped that you would be able to go over to the boat.

How are you now, dear Walt?

I long to hear from you. William & Charlie4 had each had two letters from you, & I not a word, don't you know that I shall be jealous? and now this is my third epistle to you, so I shall claim a word from you when you are able to write.

 loc.00945.003.jpgMy sister & Dr. Channing5 both ask for you with the greatest interest, & Jeannie6, Mrs. C. says she should have written you at once and asked you there when I first wrote her that you were ill, if she had not been sick herself.

Should you write me, direct to me Care of Dr. Wm. F. Channing. Providence. R.I.

I am still in pursuit of a place at the sea - shall, & hope to find one, for I need the sea.

 loc.00945.004.jpgI want to hear from you, dear Walt, & I hope you are gaining all the time, are you?

With love - Yours, Nelly.


  • 1. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. In 1872 Whitman would walk out on a debate with William over the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William established a separate residence. 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 O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889). [back]
  • 2. Martin F. Conway was the first U.S. Congressman, a Republican, from Kansas. He had served as a vocal opponent to slavery—and even spent January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, in Massachusetts with Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Julia Ward Howe. That same month, he introduced a resolution before Congress calling for recognition of the Confederacy, so that war with the South might be fought as a war between nations. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. "William & Charlie" probably refer to William Douglas O'Connor and Charles Eldridge, both of whom received at least two letters from Whitman in late June and early July. Charles W. Eldridge was one half of the Boston based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who put out the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster and eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in the office of Major Lyman Hapgood, the army paymaster. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donald, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). This publishing duo could also be the "William & Charlie" Ellen mentions, but there are no extant letters from Whitman to Thayer from this period. [back]
  • 5. William F. Channing (1820–1901), son of William Ellery Channing, and also Ellen O'Connor's brother-in-law, was by training a doctor, but devoted most of his life to scientific experiments. With Moses G. Farmer, he perfected the first fire-alarm system. He was the author of Notes on the Medical Applications of Electricity (Boston: Daniel Davis, Jr., and Joseph M. Wightman, 1849). Ellen O'Connor visited him frequently in Providence, Rhode Island, and Whitman stayed at his home in October, 1868. [back]
  • 6. Ellen O'Connor probably refers here to Jean O'Connor, William and Ellen's daughter. [back]
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