Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 31 May [1866]

Date: May 31, 1866

Editorial note: The annotation, "31 May 1866," 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.00470

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



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the last day of may1

Dear walt

it dont seem as if we had been here one whole month2 matt says one month of the twelve3 is gone i got your letter Walt yesterday with 3 dol in all right and very glad to have it i suppose you are at mrs grasons yet how is the old lady4 i suppose she is as usuall or you would have written we all remain here yet and i suppose we shall for there dont seem to be any places and if there was i dont think i could undergo the mooving operations again i like it better here now we have got kind of stoed away a little more if i had one more room but i might as well wish for a whole house so i will be content if i could only rest but that seems almost impossible the going up and down stairs tires me more than it ever did matty says it tires her too so i think they must be hard stairs the water is no where but in the basement and no way to get in the yard but down the basement i tell mat i shall be favorable to water-closets after this) we pay 15 dollars a month about the worth of the whole house george5 has paid the rent he dont like it very well here its so far for him to come i dont know what his ideas are probably he will get married who its too we dont know but he appears to be very much taken with some one6 i said something to him about it the other day partly in joke and partly in earnest he said he dident know but he should when he got time he has got to be very economicall very different from when he was in the army but every body changes some for the better and some for the worser)

Mr Davis7 is appointed chief engineer of the prospect park with a good salary i think now Jeff8 will build on his own lot a brick house) i feel better than i have felt only very lame otherwise i am much better Dr ruggles9 was here last sunday he goes to the country to vermont this week the children is extremely well mat has has very much to doo she is going to have a girl to work give my best respects to mr and mrs Oconor10 and mrs mix11

your mother
L W12


Notes:

1. This letter dates to May 31, 1866. The date in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand reads "the last day of may," and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1866. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). The year 1866 is consistent with Louisa's recent move to 840 Pacific Street and with Walt Whitman's boarding with Juliet Grayson. [back]

2. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, their daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and her son Edward Whitman had moved from their home during the Civil War, at Portland Avenue north of Myrtle, to 840 Pacific Street between Washington Avenue and Grand Avenue (see Walt Whitman's July 30, 1866 letter to Abby H. Price). The house was near Prospect Park, on what was then the outer edge of Brooklyn. [back]

3. 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]

4. Juliet Grayson operated the boarding house at 468 M Street South, Washington, D.C., where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and at least June 1866 (see Walt's June 26, 1866 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). [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. George Washington Whitman's "some one" is probably Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," whom he married in spring 1871. [back]

7. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

8. 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]

9. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85). [back]

10. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866. Nelly O'Connor had a close personal relationship with Whitman, and the correspondence between Walt and Nelly 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]

11. Mary Mix lived with her daughter, Juliet Grayson, who operated the boarding house at 468 M Street South, Washington, D.C., where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and at least June 1866. After her daughter's death on January 7, 1867, which Walt Whitman reported to his mother in his January 15, 1867 letter, Mix left Washington. [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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