Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 21 September [1865]

Date: September 21, 1865

Editorial note: The annotation, "1865," 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.00462

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



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September 211

Dear Walt

i have just received your letter all right with the 10 dlr for hanna2 which i will give her to get what she likes she is very gratefull for the present you say if i want money at any time to send to you you must not deny yourself any comforts only send what you you can very conveintly spare the fare was much more than i expected it was 12 dollars it used to be 7 i begin to feel a little as if i wanted to go back but han wont hear a word about it i have had a letter from Jeffy3 and one from Matty4 but none from george5 i suppose he is very busy Jeff says he has got a job to new york rather a big job i should think Jeffy says he is not going to doo any thing in the way of building his house this winter i was very sorry to hear that as i was in hopes he would have a place of his own he says brick is so very high i dont know but what we shall all have to go to birmingham6 to live every thing is so monstrous dear i have heard more about the place to day it certainly is quite a desirable place people that has lived here at burlington would not come here to live but likes it there much better there is many well off farmers and provitions is low so a person could live if they had a small income i want to go and see it but Mr Heyd isent favorable to it) Walt doo you feel well or are you overtaxed in your work that the warm weather affected you soo i wish Walter you would write to the doctor at flatbuss and see how Jessee7 is and let me know i cant help but think so much about him i suppos its because i am here and dont have the children to take my time) every thing seems to go on here lately [very?]8 well the living is very good and all i dont know as i feel any better than i did at home i feel pretty well i get a little home sick once in a while i told han to day i must go back in two weeks she made a great time she said you said i must stay 3 months9 i am very sorry Jeffy sent the wrong papers10 if you wish them you had better write to Jeffy to send them i have not been out any since i have been here i have been waiting for han to go with me i want to get some flannel and stocking and a few other things han says she will write to you soon give my love to the people of your house and the old lady in particular11 i would not write with a pencil if i had pen and ink but i must write with something

your mother
L Whit12


Notes:

1. The date "September 21" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1865. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). Since Louisa was in Burlington, Vermont—where she traveled on September 4, 1865 and returned on October 17, 1865—at the time of this letter, the letter dates to September 21, 1865. [back]

2. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa during her visit was alternately alarmed by and resigned to the conflict between Hannah and Charles, writing to her son Walt Whitman reassuringly in her September 5, 1865 letter that she found her daughter "quite as well and better than i expected," but alarmingly in her September 11, 1865 letter that "there was quite a blow out of coarse i did not participate in the scrap." [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Hannah and Charles Heyde resided in Burlington, Vermont, not "birmingham" as Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote here. Though below she wrote the correct name "Burlington,"she erred also in her September 11, 1865 letter from Burlington and, after her return to Brooklyn, in her March 26?, 1866 letter. Burlington, Vermont is on Lake Champlain, across from Port Kent, New York. Vermont has no city or town named "Birmingham." [back]

7. 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. This letter dates to a little less than a year after Walt Whitman committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Brooklyn, where he remained until his death on 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 (2008), 35–41. [back]

8. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's "v" in "very" has a tail and so resembles the letter "y." [back]

9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman arrived in Burlington on September 4, 1865, and she returned to Brooklyn six weeks later, on October 17. Louisa wrote again from Burlington on September 27, 1865 and encouraged Walt Whitman to visit Hannah because "i dont think i can stay a very great while longer." Walt, from Brooklyn, wrote to Ellen M. O'Connor on October 20, 1865: "mother arrived home last Tuesday." [back]

10. Walt Whitman's September 8?, 1865 letter, in which he requested papers, possibly related to Drum-Taps (1865), is not extant (see Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's September 11, 1865 letter to Walt, n. 1). Jeff reported that he had "sent the bundle."  [back]

11. The "old lady" is Juliet Grayson, who with husband Edward B. Grayson took boarders at 468 M Street South, where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and at least June 1866. The Graysons were Southern sympathizers with a son in the Confederate Army. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman also named Juliet Grayson the "old lady" in her May 31, 1866 letter to Walt. [back]

12. 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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