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Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 24 February [1876]

Dear Nelly2,

I am sitting here alone in the front room—a cold, gusty, wintry day outside, but bright & sunshiny—have just read your good letter of the 22d—Nothing special or different about my sickness or condition—I keep on much in the same way—gastric & liver trouble pretty grave, & (as a resultant) head distress more than half the time—go about though—The baby3 is getting along well—though there are better, & fatter, & handsomer babies, this one is fine enough for all practicable purposes, is well formed, & has (I think) an especially fine pair of eyes—Knows me, & seems to like to be tended to occasionally held by me—begins to laugh, & [[no handwritten text supplied here]]4 [not at] all nervous or scareable—[[no handwritten text supplied here]] though (cant [[no handwritten text supplied here]] altogether satis[factory] [[no handwritten text supplied here]] [de?]formed one, has been [[no handwritten text supplied here]] foot, but is now nearly [[no handwritten text supplied here]] been steady—I have tended it—

My sister and brother Geo:5 are well—My other sisters, nieces, & brother Jeff6, were well at last accounts. I am glad you wrote me about your mother. John Burroughs7 visited me some weeks since, on his way home from Wash'n​ . Miss Kate Hillard8 wrote me she is to be in Phila.​ on her way to Wash'n​ 26th to 29th Feb.​ in Clinton st.​ near 10th, & I am going over, 27th, to spend a couple of hours, as I know the folks. (Mrs. and Prof. and Miss Lesley.)9 As Hector Tyndale10 lives only two or three doors from there, I shall look in on him, or at least make some inquiry—& will send you word. The N.Y. Tribune of last Saturday (19th Feb.​ ) had the 2½ column synopsis of my new book, pretty full & fair11—I suppose the Star12 extracts you mention must have come from it—

M. D. Conway13 has not yet gone back to London—goes on two or three weeks—How about Chas: Eldridge? Remembrance to Mrs. Brownell,14 Mrs. Huntington,15 Mrs. Johnson16 & Miss Donaldson, & best love to you, Nelly dear—


  • 1. This letter is endorsed, "Ans'd." The envelope of this letter bears the address, "Mrs. E. M. O'Connor, | 1015 O street, W, | Washington, | D. C." It is postmarked: "Camden | Feb | 24 | N.J.; Carrier | 25 | Feb | 8 AM." [back]
  • 2. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. In 1872 Whitman and William strongly disagreed on the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William moved out. The correspondence between Walt 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]
  • 3. Whitman refers here to his nephew, Walter Orr Whitman, born November 4, 1875, who died in 1876; Whitman wrote of the birth in his December 17, 1875 letter to John Burroughs. [back]
  • 4. The letter is mutilated for the next several lines because someone cut off Whitman's signature. [back]
  • 5. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for over a decade in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Mattie) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Whitman also wrote about Burroughs's visit in a January 15, 1876 letter to Peter Doyle. [back]
  • 8. Whitman had known Hillard's writings since 1871 and mentioned her in his June 23, 1873 letter to Charles Eldridge. He sent her a copy of Leaves of Grass on July 27, 1876 (Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
  • 9. Professor J. Peter Lesley was appointed state geologist of University of Pennsylvania in 1874. He was also secretary of the American Philosophical Society. Anne Gilchrist spoke glowingly of the "delightful family circle" of the Lesleys (Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings [London: T. F. Unwin, 1887], 228–229). Maggie Lesley, an artist, visited Gilchrist in 1881 (Thomas B. Harned, ed., The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, and Co., 1918], 198). [back]
  • 10. See Whitman's July 20, 1857 letter to Sarah Tyndale and his February 29, 1876 letter to Ellen O'Connor. [back]
  • 11. Whitman had submitted this review in his February 8, 1876 letter to Whitelaw Reid. [back]
  • 12. The Washington Star was a daily newspaper established in 1852 by Joseph Borrows Tate. In 1867, Crosby Stuart Noyes, Samuel H. Kauffmann, and George Adams purchased the paper, and Noyes then served as editor from 1867 until his death in 1908. [back]
  • 13. Moncure D. Conway had arrived in America for a lecture tour in September 1875; Whitman wrote of Conway's arrival in his September 14, 1875 letter to William Linton. [back]
  • 14. Whitman refers here to an unidentified Washington friend of Ellen O'Connor. [back]
  • 15. Whitman probably refers here to William S. Huntington's wife. [back]
  • 16. Nancy M. Johnson is listed in the 1875 Directory as a widow. Whitman sent a set of books to her, as mentioned in his March 23, 1876 letter to Ellen O'Connor. [back]
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