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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 30 June 1890

 loc.03002.001.jpg Dear Walt,

Thank you for the papers sent the other day. I sent you one yesterday, with various opinions on immortality. Thomas Davidson1 says one of the strongest proofs is that we can't prove it!

How comes on the preface to the stories?2 is it nearly done, or not begun, or how? or am I "too previous" in assuming that you are loc.03002.002.jpg doing, or to do it? I only know what Dr. Bucke3 wrote me, as I have not heard from you on the subject at all. My plan is, & do you like it? My plan is to put the six published stories, & the new one, "The Brazen Android" in one volume,—with the sketch or preface, or whatever you may think best, & feel to do. Then you know that Appleton proposed to publish the "Carpenter" as loc.03002.003.jpg an illustrated story for the next Christmas, & Dr. Bucke says the illustration must be a picture of you. I hope that the death of O. B. Bunce4 has not changed the plan, he was the one who had it in hand. You know dear Walt, that they begin early to get up the books for Christmas, & I want to have the volume out early, & am having "The Brazen Android" put in type now, by a type loc.03002.004.jpgwriter, as there was but just the one copy in the world; & I would not risk that in the mail. So, if you are in the mood, I shall be very glad of your part as early as you can let one have it, if I am to have it; which is for you to say. I have told you what a great help it will be to me in many ways, so shall not enlarge upon that now. I feel that you, & you only, are the loc.03002.005.jpg one person in all the world to say the right thing about William O'Connor.5

If you have any suggestions to make about the volume I shall be very glad of them, for I feel that I am & have been very much working in the dark. If you feel like it, I should like you to confer with Horace Traubel,6 & see if he likes the plan of republishing in one volume.

How are you loc.03002.006.jpg these hot days? We have had it very hot, an old fashioned June.

For some weeks I had two school girls with me, & we went out several times in the evening & took long horsecar rides; & it brought back to mind the old days when you & William, little Jeannie,7 Charles Eldridge8 & I used to go in the same way. I am alone again, but not for loc.03002.007.jpg long, I think.

I enjoyed the visit from Dr. Bucke much.

I wish I could see you—

with love ever— Nelly O'Connor.  loc.03002.008.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. Thomas Davidson (1840–1900) was a Scottish-American philosopher who co-authored Giordano Bruno: Philsopher and Martyr (1890) with Daniel G. Brinton. Whitman sent copies of this book to several of his correspondents. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Oliver Bell Bunce (1828–1890) was associated with D. Appleton & Company, an American publishing empire founded by Daniel Appleton in 1831 and run by his sons after the elder Appleton's death in 1849. Bunce edited Appleton's Journal and then took over many of the duties of one of the sons, George Appleton, upon his death in 1878. Bunce was also a playwright, essayist, and novelist. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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 late 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]
  • 7. Jean (1858–1883) was the daughter of William D. and Ellen O'Connor. William speaks often in his letters of Jean, calling her by her nicknames of "Jenny" or "Jeannie." [back]
  • 8. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued 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, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge helped Whitman gain employment in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "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). [back]
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