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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 1 June 1890

 loc.03001.003.jpg Dear Walt,

A postal card from Dr. Bucke2 yesterday tells me that you will write the preface for me to the volume of William's3 stories.4 I can't tell you how glad I am! It is of all things just what I would wish.

The stories were all but "The Carpenter" written before you knew him, when  loc.03001.004.jpghe was very young, but some of them show great maturity in spiritual insight. "The Ghost" is my favorite, & I have read it dozens of times,—& some parts of it even yet I never can read without tears,—it is a noble & sweet lesson.

They are mostly loc.03001.005.jpg Christmas stories. "The Brazen Android" has never been in type, save a part of it which the publishers had put into the printer's hands when William recalled it, & sent back the money they had sent him, on it. loc.03001.006.jpg I tell you all this, as you may not remember. His friends have been urging me to collect & have the stories made into a volume, with a sketch, or a little biography, or something,—but I have been unable to see how or what to do, loc.03001.007.jpg till the idea to have you write this for me came like an inspiration! I saw at once that it was just the thing, & would give the book just what it needs. Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time. Any facts loc.03001.008.jpg or any thing that you may want, ask for, I shall only be too happy to give.

The book will have a sale, I know, if you write the preface.

You will think & brood over loc.03001.009.jpg it, & the right thought will come I am sure. The stories with the new one, will be seven in number.

I hope you are feeling well this perfect June 1st day.

With love— Nelly O'Connor.  loc.03001.010.jpg  loc.03001.001.jpg  loc.03001.002_zs.jpg

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. | Jun 1 | 7pm | 1890; Camden, N. J. | Jun | 2 | 6am | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 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. 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]
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