Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [26–31? March 1860]

Date: March 26–31?, 1860

Editorial notes: The annotations, "To Walt in Boston," and "March 30 1860 Friday Morning," are 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.00423

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



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March [31?]1

Dear Walt

I have received both of your letters and was glad to hear from you glad you are so well situated and was glad to have the 2 dollars each come in good time just as it used to be you know I suppose Jeffey2 has written to you he said he would last sunday has told you how sick Andrew3 was I have just come from there and he is A little better to day is the 9 day the pleurucy4 turns the 9 day he was very bad yesterday afternoon he has been blistered and cupped5 but I think he will get better in time poor nanc6 she looks as if she was almost done over I am going to send A cot around this afternoon I have carried what I could to them and Cornells wife7 sends something nearly every day)

Jess8 has got to work in the navy yard again he was here last night and wanted to come home again I told him he would have to hire board somewhere as I had hired out so much of the house I had no place for him to sleep [I?] have taken the house at 30 dollars A month I went all around and couldent do so well any where else I took it before I rented it I have hired it to one of mr Beechers church9 members by the uncommon name of John Brown10

every thing else remains about the same as when you went away there is a letter here come from boston i suppose i had better send it11 that is all the letters we have had for you I have not heard from hannah12 I wish walt you could send me 5 dollars the first of next month to help toward the rent if I can get next months rent paid I hope I shall get along better after that always hoping you know for better times

You must write and let us hear how you get along we miss you very much [Wat?]13 all this time14

Your mother
L Whitman15


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between March 26 and March 31, 1860. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's date is illegible, but "31" is the most probable reading, after consultation of the original letter in the Trent Collection. However, "26," "27," and "30" are also reasonable transcriptions.

Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter March 30, 1860, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:50–51, n. 10). Multiple subjects in the letter date the letter to a range near the date proposed by Bucke and Miller: the recent rental of a floor to the Brown family (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's April 3, 1860 letter), Andrew Jackson Whitman's throat illness, and Jesse Whitman's employment at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and his desire to return home (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 4, 1860 letter to Walt Whitman). Bucke's date (March 30) and the date transcribed here (March [31?]) are possible, but so are earlier dates within the range from March 26 through March 31. [back]

2. 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]

3. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son, and Walt Whitman's brother. Andrew developed a drinking problem that contributed to his early death, leaving behind his wife Nancy McClure Whitman, who was pregnant with son Andrew, Jr., and their two sons, George "Georgy" and James "Jimmy." For more on Andrew, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10:3 (1993), 142–148. [back]

4. Pleurisy is an inflammation of the chest or lungs, which in the nineteenth century was judged difficult to distinguish from pneumonia. Medical dictionaries from the period differ, but the seventh or ninth day is commonly suggested as the day on which fever begins to abate. [back]

5. Cupping is a means of bloodletting, which uses a heated cup. In wet cupping, shallow incisions induce bloodletting. In dry cupping, which is most likely what Louisa Van Velsor Whitman describes here, blood is drawn to surface of the skin.

Blistering is the application of an irritant, often derived from the blistering fly (also known as Spanish fly), to the surface of the skin to produce a blister and a discharge. See Richard Dennis Hoblyn, A Dictionary of Terms Used in Medicine and the Collateral Sciences (Philadelphia: Blanchard, 1856).  [back]

6. Nancy McClure Whitman was the wife of Walt Whitman's brother, Andrew Jackson Whitman. James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy" were Nancy and Andrew's sons, and Nancy was pregnant with Andrew, Jr., when her husband died in December 1863. Andrew, Jr., died in 1868, and Georgy died in 1872. For Nancy and her children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

7. Cornell is James H. Cornwell, a friend of Andrew Whitman, who got him a job in North Carolina in 1863 building fortifications. Cornwell served as a judge in the Brooklyn City Hall and is listed as a lawyer in the 1870 census, which also identifies his wife as Mary (b. 1822?) (United States Census, 1870, Brooklyn, Kings, New York). He is mentioned in Whitman's "Scenes in a Police Justices' Court Room" (Brooklyn Daily Times, September 9, 1857). For more on the relationship between Andrew Jackson Whitman and Cornwell, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 (Winter 1993), 142–148. [back]

8. 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]

9. The church is Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. Beecher (1813–1887), Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Edward attended Beecher's church. [back]

10. According to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's April 3, 1860 letter to Walt Whitman, the Brown family rented the "lower part" of the house at $14 per month. John Brown, a tailor, and his family remained in the house for five years, but the relationship between the Browns and Jeff Whitman's family was often strained. Louisa's reference to John Brown as an "uncommon name" evokes the noted abolitionist, who was executed six months before this letter was written. The famous abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859) began pursuing a violent guerilla war against slavery in Kansas and Missouri in 1856. In October 1859, Brown stormed a federal armory at Harper's Ferry but was captured by marines under the command of Robert E. Lee. Brown's execution ten days later transformed him into a martyr for the abolitionist cause (see Robert McGlone, "John Brown," American National Biography Online). [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote again the following week: "a letter come from Boston wanted A Book and I made a mistake and put some other in the letter" (see Louisa's April 4, 1860 letter to Walt Whitman). The letter or letters from Boston are not known. [back]

12. 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]

13. The name "Walt" is the only probable reading, but the letter "l" is omitted. [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]

15. 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]


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