Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [4 April 1860]

Date: April 4, 1860

Editorial note: The annotation, "Wednesday 4 April 1860 (To W. in Boston)," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00422

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang



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Walter1

it is so strange you hav[e?] not got my letter I2 sent one last friday morning3 and should have written more particularly but Jeff4 said he would write to you the first of last week but when he was home on sunday he said he had not written I have just received your letter5 and have had all you have sent and come very acceptable I had got down to 10 cents you must have got my letter before this I wrote how very sick Andrew6 was he has been very bad with the pleuresy7 so they let no one go in to see him we have all done what we could I have been there and Jeff and Martha8 and George9 I did not go yesterday he is been gaining since last friday thursday he was very bad but yesterday he was quite smart I sent Eddy10 to see) Walt there was a letter come from Boston wanted A Book and I made a mistake and put some other in the letter I send you so I will send it in this I am very glad to hear from hannah11 I shall write to her I wrote Walt for you to send me five dollars if you possibly can the first of next week to help get along with the rent of April after that I hope we shall not have such [A?] scratch great times acrosst the street with the election George was at the tribune office12 last night untill 1 Oclock waiting to hear the returns the greatest crowd and excitement he says [he?] Jesse13 is working he wants to come home I told him I had hired so much of the house out he would have to hire his board write Walt if you got my letter

we are all well good bie

I am glad you are so well pleased with Boston14


Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 4, 1860. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter April 4, 1860, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:371). The date is consistent with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's receipt of a letter that Walt Whitman had written on April 1 (Walt's letter is not extant), with her previous letter to Walt (March 26–31?, 1860) on Andrew Whitman's illness, and with the announcement of municipal election returns at the office of the New York Tribune on April 3, 1860. Therefore, the letter dates April 4, 1860. [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

3. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 26–31?, 1860 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

4. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

5. Walt Whitman's April 1, 1860 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. According to Walt's April 1, 1860 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, however, he had just "finished a letter to mother." [back]

6. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 26–31?, 1860 letter to Walt Whitman. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863), her son, was married to Nancy McClure. During Andrew's lifetime, he and Nancy had two sons, James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy." Nancy was pregnant with a son, Andrew, Jr., when her husband died in 1863. In the early 1860s, Andrew worked as a carpenter, and he enlisted briefly in the Union Army during the Civil War (see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 [Winter 1993], 142–148). [back]

7. Pleurisy is an inflammation of the chest or lungs. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 715. [back]

8. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

9. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army 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). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

10. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

11. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

12. Horace Greeley's New York Tribune was one of the leading dailies of its era. And the Weekly Tribune enjoyed widespread distribution, with a circulation of 200,000 in 1860 (for a profile of Greeley's Tribune, see "About New-York Tribune," Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/). [back]

13. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870) was the first-born son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to an asylum, where he was placed in December 1864. Shortly after an outburst that followed his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's death in December 1863—he threatened Martha Mitchell and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter Manahatta—Jeff sought to "put him in some hospital or place where he would be doctored" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 to Walt Whitman). Louisa resisted institutionalizing Jesse because, according to her December 25, 1863 letter, she "could not find it in my heart to put him there." On December 5, 1864, Walt committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush Avenue, where he remained until his death on March 21, 1870 (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt). For a short biography of Jesse, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]

14. Walt Whitman traveled to Boston in early March 1860 to oversee printing of the third edition of Leaves of Grass by Thayer and Eldridge. For a detailed account of Whitman's time in Boston, see his May 10, 1860 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman. [back]


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