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Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 19 October 1868

Dear Nelly,

I will just write you a line or two, anyhow. I am stopping the last three days here with Doctor and Jeannie2 & having a very pleasant time indeed—only Jeannie has had something of a bad spell—but is quite bright & comfortable this morning, & presided at breakfast. William is here—which adds much indeed to the pleasure of my visit—William has not recovered from an annoying cold, yet does pretty well—I have seen Mrs. Whitman,3 & like her—have seen her & talked &c. three times—have seen Miss Nora Perry4—am going this afternoon to Thomas Davis's to stay two or three days, & then return to New York—whence in two or three days more, to Washington.

Mother is quite well for an old woman of 74—speaks of you5—is now in her new quarters—much roomier & pleasanter. Sister Martha & her two little girls have come on from St. Louis, and are now living with mother. George & Eddy are well. Mrs. Price & her girls are well & in good spirits—I am enjoying my vacation agreeably, but moderately—as becomes a gentleman of my size & age.

Give my love to Mr. and Mrs. Ashton6—also to Charley—also to dear little Jeannie—It will not be long, Nelly, before I shall be with you all again. Best love to you, dearest friend.


My last letter to William was also to you—though I suppose you did not see it yet.


  • 1. This letter's envelope bears the address, "Mrs. E. M. O'Connor, | care of | Charles W. Eldridge, | Internal Revenue Bureau, | Treasury Dept. | Washington, D.C." It is postmarked: "Providence | Oct | 19." [back]
  • 2. William Francis Channing's wife was Ellen O'Connor's sister. [back]
  • 3. Sarah Helen Whitman (1803–1878), the American poet and fiancée of Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he wrote the second "To Helen." Her collected poems appeared in 1879. Walt Whitman presented an inscribed copy of Leaves of Grass to her during or shortly after his Providence visit. In a letter to Walt Whitman on November 23, 1868, O'Connor, who was a close friend of Sarah Helen Whitman, transcribed some of her comments in a recent letter to Walt Whitman: "The great, the good Camerado! The lover of men! . . . How strange it seems to me now that I should have been so near him without knowing him better! How many questions that I asked you about him would have needed no answer, if I had but have read his book then as I have read it now" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 3:505). [back]
  • 4. According to Dictionary of American Biography, Perry (1831–1896) was a poet, journalist, and author of juvenile books. Perry published a qualified defense of Walt Whitman, entitled "A Few Words About Walt Whitman," in Appleton's Journal, 15 (22 April 1876), 531–533. She was a friend of William D. O'Connor; see his letter to John Burroughs on May 4, 1876, in which he called her "a perfect pussy-cat" (current location unknown; Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades 1931, 130). [back]
  • 5. On October 23, 1868, Ellen O'Connor wrote most urgently to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to make a visit to Washington: "I want you to come and see how you like Washington, because you know I have always had a hope that you would come here to live" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 6. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs, and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
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