Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: February 27, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "27 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.00475

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



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februy 271

my dear walt

i feel as if i must write a few lines2 every time i get a letter i cant feel satisfied untill i write sometimes i think its real foolish to write every week but if i dont it seems as if i had something to doo that i had neglected my wrist hurts me so bad i have got Jeffs3 gold pen i dident know but it would help me along but iam so afraid of injuring it that i dont know as it will doo me much good) i got your letter Walt and money to day all right it is very warm here now for the time of year but very muddy i never go out any where except around the door i am midling well sometimes i think im real sick but it goes over i have been troubled with a pain in my side i have had a mustard plaister on part of the time i thought it helpt me some 4 but i feel my age more this winter than i ever did before of course im older but i seem to be so tired every day the children annoy me very much there is no time to read nor any quiet they almost live up stairs i like them of course but i get very tired of them they are very wild and noisy matty5 has no help at present but is to have a colored girl on monday they expect the masons6 here next week to make a visit) george7 was up to day as usual he seldom misses he comes up in the lumber waggon he has put his houses in an agents hands to sell he says he feels real poor they owe considerable but if they sell i suppose they will come out square and not much more every thing is so costly the plumbing and painting and they pay the most of the men 3 ½ dollars per day walt you may laughf at this figure three it looks a little like a comic picture i cant help but laughf myself O walt i got the almanacks8 i have been trying to get one ever since new year s i sent by Jeff and matt and george so many times i told them at last i was going to send to washington i wanted to see about the moon and the sun rising and all) i am going to try to write a letter to mary9 i expect she thinks we have all forgotten her as to han10 i dont know as i shall ever get a letter from her i will try to write to her before long) write walt how you like your new boarding house11 and O the poor soldiers i doo so hope that poor fellow will live it is so sad to suffer so much)12 i think walt Jeffs visit yes it has done him good

good bie Walt till i write again


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 27, 1867. The date "February 27" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1867. Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The date is correct. Walt Whitman forwarded two almanacs the previous day (see his February 26, 1867 letter to Louisa), and Louisa acknowledged receipt of the almanacs. [back]

2. 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]

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. Mustard plasters were a mustard paste that was applied to a cloth or paper, which was then applied to skin, generally with an intervening layer of cloth or paper. The paste, sometimes diluted, was typically applied to the abdomen and was held to relieve pain by increasing bloodflow or by drawing excess blood from the inflamed or painful area. Mustard, a strong irritant, would produce blisters if allowed to remain in contact with skin. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 297. [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. 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]

6. 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]

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. Walt Whitman had sent his mother two almanacs: "both are calculated for this region, not New York, & one is a sort of Catholic almanac—I saw it had all the Saints' days" (see his February 26, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). Walt again sent his mother an almanac the following year (see her February 12, 1868 letter to Walt). [back]

9. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

11. At the time of this letter, Walt Whitman lived at 472 M Street in Washington, D.C. He had been living with Mr. and Mrs. Newton Benedict for a few weeks, after the death of Juliet Grayson (see his February 12, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman).  [back]

12. Walt Whitman described the injuries and outlook for a soldier named Andrew J. Kephart as "very bad with bleeding at the lungs—it is doubtful if he recovers" in his February 26, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and he provided an update two weeks later (see his March 12, 1867 letter to Louisa). On April 2, 1867, he reported that Kephart "is quite recovered." Walt identified the soldier's regiment as "44th Reg. Infantry"; however, the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System includes only one Andrew J. (or A.) Kephart, a member of the 13th Regiment, Maryland Infantry (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm). [back]


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