Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 7 June [1866]

Date: June 7, 1866

Editorial note: The annotation, "7 June 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.00471

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



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June 7 thursday1

Dear Walt

i have just receeved your favor as the business men say enclosing 3 doller every thing comes correct lately sometimes i am almost inclined to think the old letter carrier was the guilty party this present one said the old one resined may bee he had too) it is now about 11 oclock matty2 has been out hunting for a girl i doo hope she will get one) for i help her somtimes when i feel hardly able to stand up she has very much to doo but it has got to such a pass that she depends to much on me if i felt strong and well i would not mind it she is kind to me but somtim[e?] i dont feel like dooing so much) Jeff3 looks bad he dont complain but i think he ought to have a month of leave from all cares and anxieties his salary has been put up to 200 doler a month but their expences is very great i dont know what davis4 will pay probably 50 per month it aint none to much he has a mr somebody here quite often to supper and stay all night)5 i wrote a letter to han6 yesterday and enclosed a short note to the honorable mr Heyde as i re[c?]eived a very lengthy epistle from him the other day i really think the world never produced such another man or devil i think he is nearest the last named i wrote very short with no compliment that was not surprised at his wishing to get rid of han that he had expressed that wish many times before this letter but i had never made any reply not wishing to interfere with family difficulties but in all probability he would get his desire) he said every thing that he could say in his letter to me and he was going away that he should take care of himself and she could take care of herself that all the pleasure he had was with his fellow artists) George and smith and french the mason7 has bought 5 lots on portland ave opposite the arsenal 950 a lot going to put up brick houses i think george will get married8 he thinks he is very sly but murder will out

your mother
L Whi9

i am sorry Walt your head troubles you again dont you think its the blood rushes to the head doo see some doctor walt10


Notes:

1. This letter dates to June 7, 1866. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "June 7 thursday" in her own hand, and June 7 fell on Thursday in 1866. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1866, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). The subjects of the letter are consistent with Louisa's residence at the Pacific Street house with Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Furthermore, Walt Whitman addressed numerous matters from this letter in his June 12, 1866 reply to Louisa: the improvement of the pain in his head, his invitation for Jeff to visit him in Washington, and the expectation that his brother "George will do well, in the houses, if he & others put them up on Portland av." [back]

2. 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]

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. 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]

5. Joseph Phineas Davis's "mr somebody" who stays all night is never named in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters. But her terms "somebody" and "some one" are euphemisms for a companion with whom one has a romantic interest. She also refers to George Washington Whitman's interest in a young woman (almost certainly his future wife Louisa Orr Haslam) as being "carried away by somebody" (see her November 4, 1868 letter to Walt).  [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles Louis 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 wrote, "if heyde was kind to her she would get well" (see her November 11–14, 1868 letter to Walt). [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. George Washington Whitman married Louisa Orr Haslam (d. 1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," in spring 1871. [back]

9. 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]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's postscript appears in the top margin of the first page and is inverted. Walt Whitman replied on June 12, 1866 that his health had improved: "it is very healthy here this summer—I havn't been troubled by the heat yet—my head is much better." [back]


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