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Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 15 November 1863

Dear Nelly

I have received your letter, also Charles Eldridge's & Mrs Cooper's. Nelly, I hope this will find you better of your cold, & that you & all the rest are well & [in] good spirits.1 Tell Mrs Cooper I heartily accept her invitation to visit at Philadelphia, & if I can work it so I will come gladly.2 I think about you all, & frequently. I have told my mother & sister about you all. I send my love to William. I feel that I have never had a better friend, & that no truer nor warmer heart beats. Tell Charles Eldridge too I send him my love. I regret his not likely meeting me in New York to go around together. But, Charley, we will have it yet, dear comrade. I received the letters you sent under envelope. For all & sundry, & the year's most valuable kindness, from you three, what can I say, more than that I am sure I appreciate it. Nelly, I had a pleasant trip that Monday from the start, & all through—clear & cool & no dust—I got home about 8 in evening—was up bright & early to the polls next morning &c. How well the election went in this state, you know.3 Here Brooklyn gave a stunning union vote, the biggest ever dreamed of here—Mayor, assemblymen, judges, all elected. Nelly, I am writing this from my room at my mother's house. It is Sunday afternoon, dripping & rainy, the air thick & warm, & the sky lowering. My poor brother Andrew is very ill. It is not likely he can live. His voice is quite gone. Still he moves about & is here all the time during the day. My sister Martha is untiring, feeding & nursing him. Of her children, little Hattie is well—the new baby is immense, & I take to her in proportion. I want her to be called California. She is fully worthy the name. She is large, calm, not pretty but something ahead of that, full of latent fire in the eyes (which are grey) & a complete success every way. Mother is very well & active & cheerful—she still does her own light housework, & keeps up handsomely under her surroundings of domestic pressure—one case of sickness & its accompanying irritability—two of grown helplessness4—& the two little children, very much with her, & one of them unsurpassed in volatility & restlessness—Nelly, I have thought before that the real & best bravery is to be discovered somewhere else than in the bravery of war, & beyond the heroisms of men. My brother Jeff is well—he is a noble young man & one to love.

I find my New York boys the same gay-hearted, joyous fellows, full of friendship & determined to have pleasure. We have been together quite a good deal. They have given me little supper parties, men only, with drinking &c. Of course we have great times. I have been several times to the Opera & to French theatre. The opera here, Maretzek's troupe,5 is very fine. Medori, soprano, is pretty near perfection—Mazzoleni, tenor, ditto—Biachi, base, ditto. Miss Kellogg is also good. The pieces were Lucrezia, Sonnambula, &c.6

Nelly, I have seen Charles Howells.7 He is well—apparently indeed better than he was in Washington (in health I mean). I have been at the place, 15 Charles street. In the parlor is hung up a large blue placard "Headquarters of the Pantarchy" in white letters. I did not stop to dinner, although I was prest hard. I saw a man named Newbold.8 Charles Howells is cheerful. We had quite a walk. He told me he was doing well in a business point of view, had made more while in New York than his salary would have been in Idaho. I did not see Mr nor Mrs Andrews.9 I did not make any demonstration upon Charles, except what was probably significant enough during the course of his flourishing & somewhat elaborated statement of the Pantarchian scheme which I listened to in dead silence, broken only by one or two running questions of a very brief & dry character. Charles was full of friendship & our interview was one in which he imprest me more agreeably than ever before. Surely he is a good man. The impression I received (maybe casual) is that he is partially absorbed there, his own yearning & eager nature supplying the fuel of the flame, but that he is really shrewd at bottom, & may prove more able to pick his way through the humbugs of the world than we were thinking.

Nelly, I have seen Mrs Price, but not to have much true & friendly talk, as there were many present. She is much less well than I expected—has a hacking cough. She preserves the same quiet cheerful way—& her daughters—dear girls—they are all friends, to prize & love deeply.

Nelly, if you go down to Armory Square—or if Mrs Howells should, (& if you feel well, & like going, I much wish you would very soon) please find if Pleasant Borley10 is living, he is in bed 40 in Ward A—tell him I am coming back soon, (or tell Miss Gregg,11 for him)—Also see James S Stilwell12 in Ward C, & Thomas Carson13 in same ward—also Lewis K Brown14 in Ward K, (I have sent him a long letter)—also Oscar Cunningham15 in Ward K—also tell Mrs Doolittle16 in Ward B, I want to see the boys there. I shall probably stay five or six days longer. I count on our all being together again. My head & hearing &c. are better yesterday & to-day than for two weeks—sometimes have been rather disagreeable. Well, Nelly, I will now bid you good bye for present, my truly dear friend, & good bye to the rest, & God bless you all.17

Walt Whitman


  • 1. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Eldridge and later 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. The identity of Mrs. Cooper is unclear. A Mrs. Cooper is mentioned in Whitman's notation on Ellen O'Connor's letter of November 10, 1863, and on November 24, 1863, O'Connor informed Whitman that Eldridge was going to stay at Mrs. Cooper's home in Philadelphia for several days. This is undoubtedly the Hattie B. Cooper (listed in the Directory as C. H. B. Cooper, "gentlewoman") who in an undated letter sent a "Christmas Greeting" to Whitman. Fred Vaughan referred to who is likely a different Mrs. Cooper on March 27, 1860; the Mrs. Cooper of Vaughan's letters was the mother of his roommate Robert "Bob" Cooper after Vaughan left Whitman's Classon Avenue apartment. [back]
  • 3. See note 4 in Whitman's letter from November 8–9, 1863 . [back]
  • 4. According to Miller, Edward and Jesse Whitman were mentally handicapped. [back]
  • 5. Max Maretzek (1821–1897), opera impressario, was the most successful producer of Italian opera in New York City from 1849 to 1879. [back]
  • 6. Clara Louise Kellogg (1842–1916) sang in La Sonnambula on November 13, 1863. Giuseppini Medori sang Lucrezia Borgia on November 2; see Whitman's account of this opera in a letter from November 8–9, 1863 . In Peri's Judith on November 11, 1863, appeared Medori, Mazzoleni, and Biachi. See George Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, (New York: AMS Press, 1970), 8:580–581. [back]
  • 7. On November 10, 1863, Ellen M. O'Connor melodramatically implored Whitman to see Mr. Howells, "and with all the skill and talent of which you are master do what you can to disenchant him with those people.…If he could but know the real truth in regard to 'the great head' and leader of the reform it would surely open his eyes. He evidently thinks Mr. A[ndrews] a 'great light' & a saint of a man, sincere and true." Joseph Charles 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]
  • 8. Perhaps John A. Newbould, who, according to the Directory of 1863–1864, managed a hardware store in New York and lived in Brooklyn. [back]
  • 9. Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812–1886), an abolitionist and philosopher, was absorbed in utopian schemes to establish a universal language, to reconcile all great thought, to discover a science of the universe ("Universology"), and to institute a new social order which he called Pantarchy. Trowbridge related Whitman's adverse opinion of Andrews' schemes in The Independent, 55 (1903): 497–501; note also R. A. Coleman, "Trowbridge and Whitman," PMLA, 63 (1948): 266, and E. C. Stedman's description of the "Pantarchial scheme" in Life and Letters (New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1910), 1:174–175. Ellen M. O'Connor voiced her distaste for Andrews in "Personal Recollections of Walt Whitman," Atlantic Monthly, 99 (1907): 829. [back]
  • 10. See Whitman's letter from September 7, 1863 . [back]
  • 11. See the letter from November 8–9, 1863 . [back]
  • 12. See the letter from October 21, 1863 . [back]
  • 13. See the letter from November 8–9, 1863 . [back]
  • 14. See the letter from August 1, 1863 . [back]
  • 15. See the letter from May 3, 1864 . [back]
  • 16. Mrs. Doolittle was also mentioned in the letter from November 8–9, 1863 . [back]
  • 17. The affection of the O'Connors for Whitman was evident in Ellen's reply on November 21, 1863: "Dear Walt, we long for you, William sighs for you, & I feel as if a large part of myself were out of the city—I shall give you a good big kiss when you come, so depend upon it." [back]
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