Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 21 February [1867]

Date: February 21, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "21 Feb '67," 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.00474

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



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21 of febuary1

My dear Walter

here we are with another awfull snow storm it is awful in the extreme and jeff2 has just started for the perbasco region3 matt4 was going with him and going on to philadelpha to masons5 to stay till saturday but the storm was so very bad that jeffy thought she had better not go she had her hat and all on ready they were to go yesterday but it stormed so they put it off till to day and its worse yet matt wants to go very much i was willing she should go but i would have had a pretty hard time with dooing the work and davis6 to cook for with my lame arm duty7 had the croup8 last night not very bad but matty thought if she had it and she was gone i would be so frightened she concluded to take her and the storm so bad i thought it was endangering the childs life but they dident go it was bad enoughf for Jeff) i dont think george9 can come up to day he came up yesterday in the cars it is very bad to get here after you get out of the cars its awful looking place any how i beleeve their is dissatisfaction amongst the commisioners so many men to work Jeff is pleased with his visit to washington he likes the Oconors10 very much says he spent a very agreable evening there we are very much pleased with mr Heydes11 present to you the scenery is beautiful Jeff told me how near you come to upset all the sympathy between you and your brother in law) you speak about sending the papers Walt but i think it would not be worth while12 once in a while i see the tribune13 i dont get very much time between georges coming up every day and the children up here nearly all the time but i like so to read the speakery in the house i read Chandlers speech and i generally see the sunday paper davis takes the times every day but he is so queer about it leaves it over to the office14 Jeff says for to not ask him for it i got your letter walt yesterday with the 5 dollars i feel Walt sometimes as if you was too liberall with me but its all i have except sometimes 15 or 20 cents and i pay the rent too one month Jeff only charged me 5 dollar matty says he has to pay just the same as they did before they took the long room Jeff is very kind to me i wonder sometimes he is for every little thing is told him even to burning a little wood when i ought to burn coal but i let every thing slide along but i think matty gets better) but we get along pretty well my arm is about the same no worse nor much better take all the comfort you can walt


your dear mother15

the wind is this side of the house and its almost impossible to keep warm


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 21, 1867. "February 21" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice assigned the year 1867. Edwin Haviland Miller also dated the letter February 21, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The year is consistent with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's reference to a February 11, 1867 speech by Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler. Chandler's speech, which advocated impeaching President Andrew Johnson, was published in the New York Times on February 12, 1867. [back]

2. 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]

3. The "perbasco region" refers to the surname of Louis Probasco, mentioned as a visitor in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 27, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. Probasco, an employee at Brooklyn Water Works, is first mentioned in Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Walt. The phrase "perbasco region," however, is unclear and may refer to the Probasco family. 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, mentioned as a soldier in Jeff Whitman's September 24, 1863 letter to Walt and in Walt's April 28, 1864 letter to Louisa. [back]

4. 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]

5. Julius "Jules" Mason (1835–1882) was a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry and a career army officer. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman wrote that Mason "used to be in my party on the Water Works" (see his February 10, 1863 letter to Walt). Jules Mason's sister Irene was a close friend of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 3, 1867 letter to Walt; see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977], 37, 42). Jules and Irene were the children of Gordon F. Mason, a prominent Pennsylvania businessman. When Jeff departed for St. Louis in early May 1867, Mattie stayed at the Mason home in Towanda, Pennsylvania (Waldron, 37). [back]

6. 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]

7. "Duty" or "Duti" was a nickname for 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. This nickname is rare in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters. In Louisa's letters Jessie Louisa is most often "Sis," a nickname that she inherited from her older sister Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman, or "California" in deference to Walt Whitman's private nickname, which he bestowed on her shortly after her birth (see Walt's December 15, 1863 letter). For Mattie Whitman's reference to Jessie by the nickname "Duti," see her July 4 and July 19, 1867 letters to Louisa (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 38–41). [back]

8. Croup is an infection of throat and larynx, characterized by a ringing cough. [back]

9. 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]

10. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman visited his brother Walt Whitman in Washington in mid-February 1867. Jeff thereafter corresponded periodically with William D. O'Connor, and Walt reported on Jeff's visit in his February 19, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. For a time Walt 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, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. 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. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister. They lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

12. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was replying to a query from Walt Whitman's February 19, 1867 letter: "Mother, do you see the papers much? I can send papers to you." [back]

13. Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune was one of the leading dailies of its era. The Weekly Tribune enjoyed widespread distribution, with a circulation of 200,000 in 1860 (see the profile of Greeley's Tribune at Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/). [back]

14. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman read newspapers and followed national politics avidly, hence her frustration that Joseph Phineas Davis had absconded with the New York Times and her efforts to secure Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune.

Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler (1813–1879) spoke on February 11, 1867 in opposition to President Andrew Johnson's authority to appoint provisional governors over defeated Southern states without Congressional confirmation and argued that Johnson's usurpation of Congressional authority was adequate grounds for impeachment. Chandler, a founder of the Republican Party and a leader among Radical Republicans, pressed for impeachment, but Andrew Johnson was not impeached until February 1868, after he dismissed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (see "Thirty-Ninth Congress," New York Times, February 12, 1867, 8; and see R. Hal Williams, "Chandler, Zachariah," American National Biography Online). [back]

15. 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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