Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 25 November [1865]

Date: November 25, 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.00466

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



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Novem 251

My dear Walt

i have been looking for a letter all day but none came so it is saturday night and i am alone for A wonder so i thought i would write you a few lines although my paper is somewha soiled and rather scanty it will let you see we are all in the land of the living i have better paper than this but it is away up stairs and i am too tired to go for it) we have had a terrible murder here as i suppose you see by the papers all spaniards together)2 well georgee3 dident get the job of the big house after spending so much time he says he aint much dissappointed as the architect was in favor of the new york bosses perhaps its all for the best it would have been a great care and worriment of mind they will get the job done they are at about chrismas George says) probably something will turn up by that time i tell him to go and see his friends and take things easey i have not had one word from hanna since i came home4 i want to hear from her very much i often wish i could see her i got thinking about her and other things night before last and i could not get to sleep till most morning then you know i get up very early most generally a little before day light i dont mind so much after i get down stairs but its something of job for me to get down some mornings i have been very lame more so than usuall) i have got a union with an article about your book5 i told Jeff6 to take it and send it to you would you like to have it or dont you care about it) it is not so severe as the one in the nation of the 16th of november7 tom Rome8 left it here for me to read he is quite put out about it

i should like for mr Oconner9 to see that in the nation it is a long piece with flourishes) the one in the union made me laughf you got my letter dident you Walt i wrote last sunday and finished monday about Cornelius s death10 Jeff and matty and the children11 are very well indeed martha has a woman to come every day and doo up her work little jimmy12 comes as usual no more to night with my awful pen

your mother
L W13


Notes:

1. This letter dates to November 25, 1865. The date, "November 25," is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1865. Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). Bucke's year 1865 is confirmed because the letter describes an alleged murder in Brooklyn City Park, which matches a late-November 1865 murder reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and refers to two November 1865 reviews of Drum-Taps[back]

2. The reported murder occurred in the City Park, which borders the U.S. Navy Yard and was four blocks from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's home on Portland Avenue near Myrtle. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle's sensationalistic coverage began on Thursday, November 23, the day after the crime. The victim, later identified as Jose Garcia Otero, was a theater manager, and his body was found with over $200 in cash and gold—reportedly he carried almost $10,000 when he left the Barcelona House, a boarding establishment. Two suspects were identified, Theodore Martinez Pellecer and Jose Gonzales, both Spanish nationals from Cuba; the weapons used to kill Otero were two razors and a dagger. The newspaper covered the case avidly and editorialized on city parks as havens for crime. See "Brutal Murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 23, 1865, 3; "The City Park Murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 24, 1865, 2). [back]

3. 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]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had returned to Brooklyn on October 17, after an extended visit to her daughter Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) in Burlington, Vermont (see Walt Whitman's October 20, 1865 letter to Ellen M. O'Connor). Hannah married Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. According to Thomas Jefferson Whitman's July 16, 1865 letter, Louisa decided to visit Hannah in late 1865 after a quarrel about "some women that Heyde had in his room." [back]

5. According to the review, "Whitman has done noble service in the war, but he is not a poet, for poetry needs music and imagination, not only the strong feeling and appreciation of nature which Whitman has. His fervent patriotism has produced only commonplace work, despite 'occasional sonorous lines and frequent thrilling passages.' He sins in assuming himself to be the most original and authoritative critic of this world" (see "Literary. 'Drum-Taps,'" Brooklyn Daily Union, November 23, 1865, 2). [back]

6. 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]

7. See Henry James, "Mr. Walt Whitman," The Nation 1 (16 November 1865), 625–626. [back]

8. Tom Rome (b. 1836) was a printer with A. H. Rome and Brothers, later Rome Brothers. His brother Andrew Rome, a friend of Walt Whitman, printed the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. See Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]

9. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas 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 D. 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. 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]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 19, 1865 letter is not extant. The Cornelius mentioned here may be Cornelius Van Velsor (1768–1837), Walt's maternal grandfather. Walt described him in Specimen Days as a "mark'd and full Americanized specimen" (Complete Prose Works [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1892], 11). [back]

11. 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]

12. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

13. 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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