Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 28 March [1867]

Date: March 28, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 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.00477

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Zachary King, Wesley Raabe, Felicia Wetzig, Elizabeth Lorang, Caterina Bernardini, and Nicole Gray



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march 28 th1

Dear Walt

i thought i must write A few lines although i am very tired indeed it is evening no one home but Edd and hattie2 and me martha3 has been gone to philadelphe most a week Jeff4 came home last night but mat dident come they were to come tuesday or wensday sure i dont think they will come such a game over me again she has no girl and the work has been very hard on me davis s cousin has been here come the same night they went and staid till monday then he came again last night but Jeff helped me get breakfast this morning i hope mat will come to morrow they think its all nothing i dont even get thanked i have been left so much alone here this winter they leave me a whissel to blow three times if any body comes to break in davis5 says the watchmen will come over if i blow three times i told him i should be more afraid of the watchmen than i should of the burglars i dont suppose there is any danger but it is very dreary up here in cold winter nights i am most afraid of fire but it will be spring one of these days i hope) its very cold here to night hattee is setting one side of me and Edd the other Jeff and davis has gone away to be out very late)

i forgot to tell you when i wrote last Emma price6 had been here i got her dinner and last sunday she was here to tea and she came again on monday she brought me a lot of oranges her mother7 is very well and been to the theater George8 was up to day he seldom misses without it storms very bad he is well looks real fat he is in hopes they can sell one of the other houses

i see walt by your letter mr Heyde9 has not forgotten you i too have had a short epistle from him but mine was quite moderate he says he sent me a long letter this last winter but he dident direct it right so he thinks i dident get it but i did it was very long it treated mostly about a rabbitt in the wood house i must write to han10 as soon as i can my arm keeps lame yet it gets up my arm more i got your letter yesterday walt with the money all safe if you can walt just as well as not in about two weeks send me ten dollars i have bought a barrel of flour and am to pay him five dollars and he is to wait two weeks for the ten so walt if you can send it by that time i would be glad) there was something i wanted to tell you i thought off to day but i cant think what it is nothin of great importance or i could think of it we have got a lot of little chickens was haching when they went away so we had to fetch them in some died hattie buried one after she covered it up she asked me if i thought it would go to heaven hattie is a very smart child if she had the right tutoring i doo hope when mat comes home she will settle down they have went it this winter if they never did before walt i think when you read this you l say mother is getting childish i think very like she is

good bie walte dear


Correspondent:
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)."

Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 28, 1867. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "March 28." Richard Maurice Bucke later assigned the year 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The year is correct. This letter continues the concerns of two recent letters by Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, the residence with Joseph P. Davis at Pacific Street and the responsibilities of caring for Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's young daughters (see Louisa's February 21, 1867 and her March 15, 1867 letters to Walt Whitman). [back]

2. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman.

Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Hattie and her sister Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. Emily "Emmy" or "Emma" Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price, who were friends of Walt Whitman and his mother. Emily and her sister Helen were regular visitors to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

7. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860 the Price family began to save Walt's letters. In a November 15, 1863 letter to Ellen M. O'Connor, Whitman declared, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply." [back]

8. 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]

9. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Heyde wrote to Walt Whitman in regard to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman earlier in March 1867: "It is reasonable to anticipate from Mrs Whitman's past robustness, and present approaching infirmities, that she will never undergo protracted sickness, but her demise, when it does take place, will occur in a brief period. It may so happen that Hannah may not be permitted to see her mother again." Heyde complained also that Hannah's lack of "outward sentiment or sympathy" had made it "impossible for me to respect her" (Charles L. Heyde, March 1867 letter to Walt Whitman, Trent Collection, Duke University). On March 26, 1867, Walt wrote to his mother: "I have rec'd another epistle from Heyde—one of his regular damned fool's letters—I never answer them, nor make any allusion to them—it was full of complaints—." Heyde complained of Hannah's sloppy attire ("her appearance would disgrace any servant in the vicinity"), her laziness, her lack of "womanly sensibility . . . and intellectual imbecility" (Trent Collection, Duke University). [back]

10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's youngest daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles L. Heyde. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. The animal that Heyde described in his letter was a small brown squirrel, not a rabbit as Louisa wrote here (see Charles L. Heyde's January 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Duke University, Trent Collection). Louisa had previously noted her receipt of Heyde's January letter and his description of the animal she mistakenly designated a "rabbit" (see Louisa's January 17, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]


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