Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 10 June [1874]

Dear Nelly,

Your letter has reached me this morning—&, as always, is welcome—I shall not go on to Boston—am not well enough (& the hot spell besides)—but shall send the piece I have composed for the occasion—a ten or fifteen minute piece I call the "Song of the Universal"—to be read by proxy in its place in the programme, just the same as though I were there. I will next week send it you in print2

I am only reconciled to Charles Eldridge's not coming to see me Decoration Day, by taking it for granted that he will consequently feel bound to visit me without fail before long—Come, Charley, by all means—It will do me good—

Nelly, John Burroughs has had a terrible & sudden sorrow befall him—the sudden insanity & death of his young nephew, his dead sister's son, (he visited me here during the past winter) Chancy Burroughs,3 at Brooklyn two weeks since—Abruptly, mysteriously, from apparent health & strength he became a raging maniac & died in three days—& J. B. took up the poor young man's corpse & buried him by his mother's side, there in the mountains of Delaware County—

If I remember right the picture in the gilt frame is the one with the hand up at the right side of the head—so? If so, I have some of them, & will give Mrs. Johnson one with the greatest pleasure—(it is one of Brady's photos)—I wish you to give my best respects & love to Mrs. J. and sister—Also to Garry Howard, Mrs. Huntington, Mrs. Brownell & in fact to "all inquiring friends"—

I still maintain the "great expectations" I have before mentioned—the severe gastric affection, trouble in side & breast, &c still assert themselves at times—dyspepsia, from 17 months inaction—but upon the whole not so severely—& I think very decidedly gradually growing less—The worst is my singular alternations, fluctuations. The heat here too is & has been extreme—but I am standing it well, so far—to-day as I sit here writing, a fair breeze blowing in—

Peter Doyle has ten days since paid me a short visit of a couple of days4—the dear, dear boy—& what good it did me!—(Unfortunately it was, however, at a time when I was feeling almost at my worst.) Yesterday George Bacon came, bringing a friend—& we had a capital good hour & a half—talked Spiritualism—I enjoyed it though—

Love to you, Nelly dear. Walt Whitman


  • 1. This letter is endorsed, "Ans'd." Its envelope bears the address, "Mrs. E. M. O'Connor, | 1015 O street, N. W. | Washington, | D.C." It is postmarked: "Camden | Jun (?)| 10 | N.J.; (?)| 11 (?)| Jun | 8 AM." [back]
  • 2. "Song of the Universal" appeared in the New York Daily Graphic on June 17, 1874; in the Evening Post on June 17, 1874; in the Springfield Republican on June 18, 1874; in the New York World on June 19, 1874; and in the Camden New Republic on June 20, 1874. According to the Springfield Republican, the poem was read by Prof. Brown "probably better than the poet himself would have rendered it…The poem…is very Whitmany, being one of the most grotesque in expression and one of the richest and subtlest in thought which he has put out for a long time." [back]
  • 3. Whitman refers here to Chauncey B. Deyo. [back]
  • 4. The visit took place about May 25, 1874; in his May 29, 1874 letter to Peter Doyle, Whitman mentioned that Doyle had recently left Camden. [back]
Back to top