Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 17 January [1867]

Date: January 17, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "18 Jan 66," 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.00469

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, Elizabeth Lorang, and Nicole Gray



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thursday januar 17th1

My dear walt

we are all as well as usual and have got one of the old fashion snow storms such as we used to have when i was young it is awfull and looks as if we sho[uld?] remain a while on prospect park2 but i think we have got enoughf to eat to stand through it if it dont last too long thank god and good sons) poor mrs grayson i felt real sad to hear of her death3 poor woman she must have been tortured to death probably a happy exchange)4 i have had a long letter from mr heyde5 the principle part and the most interesting was about a rabbit that had made up his winter quarters in his woodhouse he spoke of your sending han6 some gloves and 5 do and walt was a good fellow i suppose you will take it as a great compliment) and han was very ill natured and he had his place nearly paid for but he sighed for other lands so much for mr heyde

i dont think george7 can come up to day he was up yesterday i roasted him a nice peice of mutton so if it stormed and he had it in a little tub he brings up and he left it on the back stoop a few minutes when he went down and some dog got it and went off with it all [he?]8 wouldent take any more so he will have to go out and get his dinner there dont seem to be any place without going down town to get any thing well walt i received your letter yesterday with the 5 dollar and paper and envelopes) emma price9 was here last week she had been to mrs wells10 the night before to a party and she had the headach and felt bad i told her if she d wait till the teakettle boiled i would make her some tea so she took off her hat and i fried her a fresh egg and bread and butter before she was half done she said she felt better helen11 is learning drawing goes every day her mother inhales something paper dipped in some kind of liquid and burned and she inhales the smoke that helps her very quik off those bad spels12

good bie walter dear

Jeffy makes my fire when it is very cold he has nervous spells sometimes and is quite moody write to him walt when you can13


Correspondent:
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)."

Notes:

1. This letter dates to January 17, 1867. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the letter to the year 1866, but Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter January 17, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:307, n. 10). The year 1867 is correct because, according to the date in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, the letter dates to January 17, a Thursday. January 17 fell on Wednesday in 1866 and on Thursday in 1867. Further, the letter responds to Walt Whitman's news that Juliet Grayson has died (see his January 15, 1867 letter to Louisa) and discusses a January 1867 letter from Charles Heyde. [back]

2. At the time of this letter, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was living at 840 Pacific Street near Prospect Park, which covered over 500 acres in what is now the center of Brooklyn. The designer for the park was Calvert Vaux (1724–1785), and the chief architect was Frederick Law Olmsted (1822[?]–1893). Work began in 1859 and continued after the interruption of the Civil War. In 1867, when this letter was written, the realization of Vaux's design was nearly complete. The park stretched to the city's eastern boundary is notable for its Long Meadow, "a classic passage of pastoral scenery with gracefully modulated terrain of greensward, scattered groves of trees, and indefinite boundaries that create a sense of unlimited space" (Charles E. Beveridge, "Olmsted, Frederick Law," American National Biography Online). Joseph Phineas Davis, who shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, her son Edward, and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's family, was an engineer at Prospect Park (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

3. Juliet B. Grayson, who lived with her mother Mary Mix at 468 M Street North in Washington, D.C., took boarders, one of whom was Walt Whitman. Grayson died on January 7, 1867, and Walt reported her death to his mother a week later (see his January 15, 1867 letter). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman here refers to the abhorrent behavior of Edward B. Grayson, Juliet Grayson's husband. According to Walt Whitman's January 22, 1867 letter to Louisa, Edward Grayson was "just as bad since his wife's death as ever—he gets drunk, & then tries to choke his son & daughter, & ends by getting in a fury, & trying to beat every body out of the house." [back]

5. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt: "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them" (see her March 24, 1868 to Walt).  [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Hannah's husband, Charles Heyde, stated that he owed $500 on his house, and he acknowledged Walt's gift to Hannah: "Han has received two parcels from Walt with two pairs of nice gloves; one 5 dollar greenback; and numerous stampd envelopes with your address written upon them; also sufficient note paper for several letters. Walter is being kind." The animal that Heyde described in his letter was a small brown squirrel, not "a rabbit" (see Charles L. Heyde's January 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Duke University, Trent Collection).  [back]

7. 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]

8. The word "he" is unclear. The letter "h" in the word "he" is probably written over the letter "i." [back]

9. Walt Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman were close friends of the Price family during the years of Walt's Brooklyn residence before the Civil War. The Prices also were regular visitors to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in the post-war years. The surviving letters from Walt to Abby Hills Price (1814–1878) are numerous, and Walt often expressed interest in her children, Helen, Emma, and Arthur (another son, Henry, had died at 2 years of age). For Walt Whitman's relationship with the Price family, especially Abby, see Sherry Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 45–95. [back]

10. The woman that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman identifies as "mrs wells" was a friend of Emma Price. Louisa mentioned Mrs. Wells in connection with another Emma Price visit in her February 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Mrs. Wells has not been identified, and it is not known whether she had a connection to Samuel R. Wells, a member of the firm that distributed the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass[back]

11. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Helen's reminiscences of Walt Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

12. Abby Price's remedy for "bad spells" is presumably potassium nitrate paper. Medical dictionaries of the era recommend the inhalation method that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman describes to relieve symptoms of asthma. [back]

13. This postscript appears inverted in the top margin of the first page.

Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) was Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's eighth child. He married Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in February 1859, and they and two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa and her son Edward. Jeff in 1866 was employed as an engineer at the Brooklyn Water Works, but his career had stagnated and did not revive until he was offered the position of chief engineer at the St. Louis Water Works in 1867. For a discussion of his mental state during this period, which is discernible from phrases in Jeff's own letters and informed also by Louisa's observations, see Dennis Berthold and Kenneth Price, ed., "Introduction," Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 119. [back]


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