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Walt Whitman to William D. O'Connor, 20 January 1865

My dear friend2

I suppose you must have heard from Ashton that I received Mr. Otto's letter,3 & that I returned for answer that I would report myself to him on or about Tuesday 24th instant. During the week previous to 16th I was quite sick, but this week I am about as well as usual.

I intend to leave here on Monday 23d—shall take the 8 o'clock morning train, which will probably arrive in Washington about 7 in the evening. William, if you could hear of a room, I wish you would engage it for me—if Gwinne4 has one, it would do—take the first good room you find, if any, irrespective of price—it would do for a week or so, any how—would like convenience for a fire, as I am susceptible to chill this winter.

We got word yesterday by means of an exchanged prisoner, from my brother George, but only up to November 27—at that time he was at Danville, Virginia, in confinement with 350 other officers. We hear that he is full of fortitude & even good nature, but like all the rest, starved, miserable & naked, to the last degree.

We are all well, home here. Last night another snow-storm, but fine & sunshiny this morning—So far this winter, snow, rain, mud, melt, fog, with spells of sharp cold. I have received a letter from Charles Eldridge, from an island off in the sea, far beyond Boston. I suppose you got my letter of some ten days since. Nelly, I send you my love, & hope you are well & [in] good spirits. Farewell.

Walt Whitman


  • 1. This letter is addressed: William D. O'Connor | Light House Bureau, | U S Treasury Department, | Washington, | D. C. It is postmarked: New York | Jan | 20. [back]
  • 2. For a time Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles W. Eldridge and later John 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. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was an intelligent man who deserved something better than the various governmental clerical posts he was to hold until his death. The humdrum of clerkship, however, was relieved by the presence of Whitman whom he was to love and venerate—and defend with a single-minded fanaticism and an outpouring of vituperation and eulogy that have seldom been equaled, most notably in his pamphlet, "The Good Gray Poet." He was the first, and in many ways the most important, of the adulators who divided people arbitrarily into two categories: those who were for and those who were against Walt Whitman. The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was a born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" (Complete Prose Works [New York, D. Appleton, 1910] pp. 513). For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors see O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. Of the O'Connors, Thomas Jefferson Whitman wrote on June 13, 1863: "I am real glad, my dear Walt, that you are among such good people. I hope it will be in the power of some of our family to return their kindness some day. I'm sure twould be done with a heartfelt gratitude. Tis pleasant, too, to think, that there are still people of that kind left." [back]
  • 3. William T. Otto was assistant secretary of the interior. Otto wrote to Whitman on January 12, 1865 to advise him that upon "passing a satisfactory examination you will be appointed to a First Class Clerkship," and on January 24, he informed Whitman of his appointment as clerk at the salary of "$1200 per annum." [back]
  • 4. Carey Gwynne; see the letter from June 9, 1863 . [back]
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