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Walt Whitman to Ellen M. O'Connor, 29 September 1890

Sept 29 – 1890— Iu .5 Dear friend,

Yr's just came telling me of y'r moving—As you don't mention my letter of ten days since2 contain'g the little printed slips (in lieu) of preface3 I suppose it & they have not reach'd you—so I enclose two more—Or do they not suit? If so, let them go—I wanted to go on record embalming (as much as I could) my tribute of dear W[illiam]'s4 memory & past. Y'r letter to-day is the first I have heard f'm you in two months & over5—Dr Bucke6 is well & busy—I hear f'm him often. I continue on ab't the same—slowly letting down peg after peg—my mind & my right arm remain'g abt the same—I want to finish & print a 2d little annex (the last) to L. of G.

I am sitting in my room in Mickle Street in the big old ratan chair with wolf-skin spread on back—have a little fire in stove—cool weather—bright sun out—was taken out in wheel chair7 yesterday afternoon—What is doing—or what has been done—abt the book of tales &c:?—John Burroughs8 has just been to see me—He, wife & boy9 still on their Hudson river farm—

Best respects & love Walt Whitman

laterafternoon—Yr 2d letter just rec'd & I see you have the Preface slip—but perhaps may as well send this yet.10 Bright sunny day but cool—the grip has hold of me pretty badly—wouldn't

The Brazen Android and other Tales11 By &c: &c:

merely be as good a title as any?

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: E M O'Connor | 112 M Street N W | Washington | D C. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Sep 2(?) | 8 PM | 90; Washington. Recd. | Sep 30 | 6 AM | 90. [back]
  • 2. Whitman may be referring to the letter he wrote to O'Connor on September 21, 1890. [back]
  • 3. At Ellen O'Connor's request, Whitman had written a preface for W. D. O'Connor's posthumously published Three Tales (1892). [back]
  • 4. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Ellen replied on October 5, 1890: "Thank you again for the Preface. I am pleased with it, for I know you wrote what you felt to write. I know that you & I feel more & more a most tender & growing love for dear William, & all his noble and generous qualities show out to me by contrast, all the time." [back]
  • 6. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. [back]
  • 8. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. Julian Burroughs (1878–1954), the only son of John and Ursula Burroughs, later became a landscape painter, writer, and photographer. [back]
  • 10. The enclosed Preface contains the following annotation: "Proof of W's Introduction to 'Three Tales.'" [back]
  • 11. Ellen O'Connor eventually titled the book simply Three Tales (included were "The Ghost," "The Brazen Android," and "The Carpenter"). [back]
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