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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 29 May 1890

 loc.02988.003.jpg Dear Walt,

I am going to ask you to do something for me,—or shall I say something for William,2—it will be for us both.

It is this—will you write a prefatory notice, a memoir, or whatever it may be, as brief or long as you will, for a volume of his stories that I want to collect & publish with the new one that has loc.02988.004.jpg not yet been printed, "The Brazen Android,"3

As soon as William passed away his friends began to say that I ought to collect & reprint his stories,—but only now has it taken any shape,—& now I think I see the way to do it, to put the seven into one volume,4 loc.02988.005.jpg and I am sure that any publisher will take it for me, if only it has your word of preface. It will I know make the volume sell; & it will be a great thing for me.

Any data that you may want I shall be very glad to furnish you.

I feel a great hope rise up in me at this idea, dear loc.02988.006.jpg Walt, & hope that you can & will do it.

 loc.02988.001.jpg  loc.02988_large.zs.jpg With love & congratulations on your coming birth-day,5 as ever—the same Nelly O'Connor.

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: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Washington, D.C. | May 29 | 1030PM | 90; Camden, N.J. | May 30 | 7AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Three of O'Connor's stories with a preface by Whitman were published in Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892). The preface was included in Good-Bye My Fancy (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891), 51–53. [back]
  • 4. Originally, Nelly O'Connor imagined she would include all of her husband's short stories in the volume; she eventually settled on including just three. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's friends gave him a birthday supper in honor of his 71st birthday on May 31, 1890, at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia, at which the noted orator Col. Robert G. Ingersoll (1833–1899) gave a "grand speech, never to be forgotten by me" (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Daniel Brinton (1837–1899), a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, presided, and other speakers included the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) and Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914), a writer and a physician specializing in nervous disorders. The Philadelphia Inquirer carried the story on the front page on the following day. The Camden Daily Post article "Ingersoll's Speech" of June 2, 1890, was written by Whitman himself and was reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works, 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [New York: New York University Press: 1963–1964], 686–687). Later Traubel wrote "Walt Whitman's Birthday" for Unity (25 [August 28, 1890], 215). [back]
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