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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 5 October 1890

 loc.03003.003_large.jpg Dear Walt,

Your letter of Sept. 29.2 enclosing two more slips of the Preface3 came duly, but now that I am in office, & have to leave at 8 A. M. & don't get home till near or quite 5 P. M. I am so tired that I can't even touch a pen at night. I am in for two months, as the Census work is  loc.03003.004_large.jpg closing up in part. It has been a hard & busy summer, & that is why you did not hear from me. I had to work just as hard for the examination for this office, as for any, & had to pass an examination, & then work to get in.

So now with my moving, & house-keeping, & getting through with a day in the office, you can say that I am busy.  loc.03003.005.jpg

Thank you again for the Preface. I am pleased with it, for I know you wrote what you felt to write. I know that you & I feel more & more a most tender & growing love for dear William,4 & all his noble & generous qualities show out to me by contrast, all the time. I don't find others like him, tho' I have nothing to  loc.03003.006_large.jpg complain of; & have warm & loyal friends.

I have a vivid picture of you, as you sit in your room. I I hope we shall have fine weather, & that you will enjoy it.

My sister Jeannie,5 Mrs. Channing, will be here before the month ends, I hope.

 loc.03003.001_large.jpg  loc.03003.002_large.jpg With thanks again— & love— As ever— 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 W Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked Washington. D.C. | Oct 5 | 7 PM | 1890, Camden, N. J. | Oct | 6 | 6 AM | 1890 | Rec'd. [back]
  • 2. See Whitman's letter of September 29, 1890. [back]
  • 3. On May 29, 1890, Ellen O'Connor asked Whitman to write a preface for a collection of tales by her husband, the late William Douglas O'Connor, which she hoped to publish—The Brazen Android and Other Tales (later entitled Three Tales). After the poet's approval was conveyed to her through Bucke, Mrs. O'Connor wrote on June 1, 1890: "Your name & William's will be associated in many ways, & this loving word from you will be a comfort to me for all time." Not having heard directly from him, she wrote about the preface once more on June 30, 1890. Whitman enclosed the preface with his letter to Mrs. O'Connor of September 25, 1890. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Ellen M. O'Connor's sister was Mary Jane "Jeannie" (Tarr) Channing (1828–1897). Walt Whitman visited often with Mary Jane and her husband Dr. William F. Channing during his October 1868 visit to Providence, Rhode Island. [back]
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