Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [16 or 23 October 1867?]

Date: October 16 or 23, 1867?

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 10 Oct 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.00472

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



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My dear Walter1

i got you letter to day wensday2 with the money all safe and was glad to hear from yo[u?] it seemed like an age since i had seen you i am glad you are better situated than you was3 i am about the same of my lameness but yesterday and to day i feel better and not so weak and exausted like i did feel i have my bed out in the room and sleep better and my appetite is better sis4 has been quite sick so marthe5 had A doctor she was quite bad for two or three days she was as yellow as gold the white of her eyes was very yellow she was in here the most of the time the doctor said it was her liver he gave her something that has helped her very much O walt dont you think you left two shirts and hankercheif6 i went to the bureau to get something and there lay the shirts and handkercheif i did feel real bad your new ones too how shall i get them to you i dont know if you will come christmas i will keep them then you needent bring any well walt here we are yet the old folks is moving out and the son and wife is going to live in one room and bedroom and the other to be rented to another set rather too much of the good thing rather too many over head but winter aint so bad as summer george7 says if you will buy smiths8 half of that lot he will fix the shop for me he says he can put a cellar under it and turn it around for about 1200d twelve hundred dollars i would not mind its setting back from the street he says there is about 70 dollar worth of lumber there he wont take less than 900 doller georg says property is high this fall write walt if you think well of it take care of yourself the carpenters shop acrost the street burned down last night


Notes:

1. This letter dates to October 16 or 23, 1867. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter October 10, 1866, and Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's date (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:293, n. 57). Bucke and Miller's date is incorrect: the letter dates just over a year later. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman cannot date to the year 1866 because Walt in his October 16, 186[6?] fragment states that "I have not heard any thing from you the last week." If this letter dates October 10, 1866 (Wednesday), Walt would have heard from Louisa "last week," if his fragmentary letter dates October 16, 1866 (Tuesday). The second, decisive factor in dating this letter to October 1867 is Louisa's housing situation, which though unpleasant in October 1866 did not become seriously unsettled until after Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman departed for St. Louis in May 1867. Louisa's housing difficulties became acute in 1867, after Jeff's departure, which led his wife, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman to leave the Pacific Street home and stay with Gordon F. Mason's family in Towanda, Pennsylvania, from June to September 1867 (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 37, 42). Louisa in this letter conveys from George Washington Whitman a description of a Portland Avenue lot that Walt could be interested in purchasing. The fragment in which Walt offers to raise $2000 is in response to this letter. Miller's conjectured date for Walt's fragmentary letter must be rejected in favor of a few days after this letter, to a range from October 18 to October 30, 1867 (cf. Walt Whitman's October 16, 1867 letter fragment to Louisa, The Correspondence, 1:293).

Because this letter dates a year later than previously determined by Bucke and Miller, to October 16 or 23, 1867, the fragmentary letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman that Miller assigned to 1866 must be reassigned, and Kim Roberts's calendar of Walt's Washington boarding places must be revised as well. According to Roberts, Walt moved to 468 M Street South (Graysons) in January 1865, to 364 13th Street West in February 1866, and to 472 M Street South (same house as Graysons, then under Mrs. Newton Benedict) in 1867 ("A Corrected Map of Whitman's Washington Boarding Houses and Work Places," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 22 [Summer 2004], 136). But the date that Roberts assigns for Walt's move from the Graysons (February 1866) is incorrect. Walt in summer 1866 was boarding with the Graysons: "Mrs. Grayson gives me plenty of good vegetables, peas string beans, squash [...] the house is very pleasant this weather—as cool as it can be any where" (see his June 26, 1866 letter to Louisa). [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman received Walt Whitman's October 15 or 22, 1867 letter (not extant). Edwin Haviland Miller, who dated this letter from Louisa to October 10, 1866, dated Walt's letter to Louisa (not extant) October 9, 1866 (Correspondence, 1:369).  [back]

3. Walt Whitman formerly boarded with Juliet Grayson and her mother Mary Mix at 468 M Street North. Juliet Grayson died in January 1867 (see Walt Whitman's January 15, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). After her death, Whitman returned to the same house to board under the new proprietors Mr. and Mrs. Newton Benedict, but he was confined to a small attic (see his February 12, 1867 letter to Louisa). [back]

4. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta "Hattie" were both favorites of their uncle Walt. The nickname "Sis" was given first to Manahatta but was passed to her younger sister Jessie Louisa when Manahatta became "Hattie." The letter dates to 1865, so "Sis" is Jessie Louisa. [back]

5. 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. After residing in Brooklyn in a home shared with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Louisa's son Eddy, in early 1868 Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in May 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. For more on Martha Whitman, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26.  [back]

6. Walt Whitman originally planned to depart Brooklyn to return to Washington, D.C., on September 30, 1867 (see his September 27, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor), but his return may have been delayed a week or so (see his October 13, 1867 letter to Francis P. Church and William C. Church and his October 28, 1867 letter to Alfred Pratt). [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. A man known only as Smith was George Washington Whitman's partner in building houses on speculation. Walt Whitman described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to John Burroughs). [back]


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