Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [27 January 1867]

Date: January 27, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "20 Jan. 1867," 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.00473

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



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sunday afternoon1

my dear Walt

i must write you a few lines and only a few to let you know how we are i can hardly write on account of lameness in my right arm down toward my wrist it has been over a week at first i thought it was going to gather but it has not yet but is swolen and at times pains me quite bad but i make out to doo around but i cant lift much with it i have rubbed it with one a but2 it dont seem to doo much good george3 says i must put slippery elm poultice4 but perhaps it will get better in time but it is so bad when i make bread and crullers5 george wants them to take down he was up yesterday and the day before he wasent up from last saturday night till wensday not last night but saturday week it was so bad and such snow banks last week one day a waggon and six horses got stuck on the avenu the cars dident run those was pasengers from flatbush i suppose but they had to walk down Jeffy6 said they were two hours getting out O walt it is terrible here in the winter matt7 is getting as tired of it as i am it will not look like any thing again even in the summer its all dug and redug between this and the avenu great trenches it looks like destruction ) we are all pretty well except my arm and sis8 she aint very well she is by my side asleep in the rocking chair its very rare for me to be without them i get very tired of them i often feel as if i wished to be quiet if only for one hour matty has no help so the young ones live up here perbasco9 has put up here since yesterday so they have it) georges horse ran away the other day from the lumber yard run till she got fast in a snow drift he thinks it wont hurt her that she wont run again she is a nice horse only 5 years old well walt Jeff talks of coming to washington he is going somewhere else and talks of coming there to stay one night talks of coming next tuesday matt says he has talked of coming so many times and not come) for me to not say any thing about it but i think he will come this time maybee not tuesday but some times during the week)10

i receive your letter and money and envelopes as usual walt last wensday davis s man11 always brings them to me i feel so glad walt you can go to see the poor fellows in the hospital and carry them a cake i suppose its quite a treat to them good bie walt write mrs mix s12 address if i ever get out of the snow maybee i can call and see her

good bie again Walter with many thanks for your remembrance of
your mother13


Notes:

1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated this letter only "Sunday." Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter January 20, 1867, but Edwin Haviland Miller dated it January 26, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:311, n. 31; 1:377). Miller presumably relied on Walt Whitman's acknowledgment of a "letter of Sunday week, Jan. 26" to assign the date (see Walt's February 5, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). Walt almost certainly responded to this letter from Louisa—he referred to her "lameness in the wrist," and acknowledged Thomas Jefferson Whitman's possible trip to Washington—but January 26, 1867 fell on Saturday. Because Louisa wrote "Sunday," this letter dates to January 27, 1867. [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's intent is unclear. After the word "one" is a stricken character that may have been a letter "c." She may have referred to rubbing the swollen arm "once" with a type of massage, or perhaps she massaged the arm with the slippery elm poultice that George Washington Whitman recommended. Alternately, she may have intended also to cancel the word "a." [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. The application of a poultice made from ground or powdered slippery elm bark was a common herbal treatment for swelling and infection in the nineteenth century. [back]

5. Crullers are a "cake cut from dough containing eggs, butter, sugar, etc., twisted or curled into various shapes, and fried to crispness in lard or oil" (Oxford English Dictionary). [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. 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]

8. Probably Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), 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." [back]

9. "perbasco" probably refers to Louis Probasco, an employee at the Brooklyn Water Works (see Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). The Whitmans had two other acquaintances named Probasco—Samuel R. Probasco (1833–1910), an employee at the Brooklyn Water Works from 1856 to 1868 and an assistant engineer in the Department of City Works, and Joe Probasco, a soldier mentioned both in Jeff's September 24, 1863 letter to Walt and in Walt's April 28, 1864 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Whichever Probasco this one is, he is mentioned again in Louisa's February 21, 1867 letter to Walt: Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman are said to depart for the "perbasco region."  [back]

10. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman visited Walt Whitman in Washington from February 13 to February 18, 1867. For Walt's report on Jeff's visit, see his February 19, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]

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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