Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: March 21, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "—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.00478

Contributors to digital file: Wesley Raabe and Elizabeth Lorang



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march 211

Dear walt

i got your letter yesterday with the money2 all safe i feel quite rich when i get it and dislike to change it but i have too for our georgy has been so hard for money lately3 that i dont ask for it if i did and he had any i make no doubt but he would give it to me) Jeffy4 let him have 150 dolr a few days ago O ive got a letter from han5 i have read it and will send it to you walt i was so glad to hear from her once more i thought when hattie6 brough[t?] it up it was from you i was a little frightened at first seeing your writing dident look at first at the burlington7 my not being in the habit of getting any only wensdays then i wach for the messenger O dear walt aint we having it here in storms and gales of wind it is awful what times we have i have just got warm since morning i have put a blanket up to the window to keep the wind out when its northeast its almost impossib[le?] to keep warm i have had a pretty hard winter so far but am in hopes it will be over after a while it has been almost as much as your life was worth to get to the privy it is so decending and slippery i doo hope i shant have to live here another winter i know i migh be much worse off but it is so bad for me to live up stairs [s?]uch crooked ones as these they have company yet down stairs they go out almost every night last week i hardly went to bed till twelve or after they go to new york and come up in the last car last night they come about 12 jeff had a cup of tea here which made it almost 1 before i got to bed davis s cousin8 is here nearly half of his time Mr Rice9 and masons sister10 is here mat11 and she is going to philadelph[e?] to morrow i hope when she comes back she will settle down and be a little like herself i hardly see her she s so engag[ed?] in company and dress you know i wrote about sis swallowing the peny12 the next day morning matty and her friend went out so i kept sis and wached her and the penny passed through her when her mother came home she never asked any thing abou[t?] it so i wouldent tell her i told jeff he was very much worried but but she s all well she says she calafornia when uncle comes home13 well walt i cant write much more my arm gets so weak and lame it is quite troublsome i am in hopes when the weathe[r?] becomes warmer it will get better George has just been up and tells me they have sold one of the houses to the captain he was captain of the contest taken by the alabamans in the war times)14 this peice was cut out of the williamsburg times15

good bie walter dear


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 21, 1867. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated this letter "March 21." Richard Maurice Bucke later assigned the year 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The year 1867 is confirmed by a previous mention of a penny that Jessie Louisa, daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, had swallowed (see Louisa's March 15, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman), by Louisa's receipt of Walt Whitman's March 19, 1867 letter, and by the recent death of Dr. Ruggles. [back]

2. See Walt Whitman's March 19, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Walt acknowledged receipt of "both your letters last week." [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted 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 partner Smith and later a mason named French. George initially relied on the significant sum that Louisa had husbanded for him from his military pay, but this letter is near the beginning of a two-year period during which George is financially overextended and begins to rely on loans from brothers Walt and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. According to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 15, 1867 letter to Walt, Jeff agreed to lend George $200. For a review of the series of loans that Walt and Jeff had made to George, see her June 23, 1869 letter to Walt. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington."  [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. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde's (1823–1908) March 20, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman commended Walt Whitman's kindness; expressed Hannah's appreciation for Walt's forwarding of paper, money, and Louisa's letters; pressed her mother to again visit Vermont; and informed Louisa of some notices of Walt in periodicals. Hannah, Louisa's youngest daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter (see Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 209–211). [back]

6. 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, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. Hattie and her younger sister Jessie Louisa (1863–1957) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

7. Burlington, Vermont was the home of Louisa's Van Velsor Whitman's daughter Hannah Heyde. [back]

8. His cousin has not been identified, but Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, her son Edward, and the family of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman before Jeff's departure for St. Louis in 1867. Davis 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]

9. A Mr. and Mrs. Rice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were close friends of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. The Rices joined Jeff and Mattie when they returned to St. Louis after the Whitman family's December 1867 trip to Brooklyn and were interested in boarding with the Whitmans in St. Louis (see Jeff's January 17, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 124, and Mattie's February 1, 1868 letter to Louisa, Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 45). [back]

10. 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 Whitman). 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 Whitman, and 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]

11. 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]

12. Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman, daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, had swallowed a penny (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 15, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). Louisa was answering Walt's query about Sis's penny (see his March 19, 1867 letter to Louisa). Walt replied to this letter with gratitude that "sis's penny had a safe journey" (see his March 26, 1867 letter to Louisa). [back]

13. "California" was a nickname for Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Though Louisa Van Velsor Whitman referred most often to her granddaughter as "Sis"—a nickname that Jessie Louisa inherited when her older sister Manahatta became "Hattie"—Walt Whitman apparently bestowed the private nickname "California" on Jessie Louisa shortly after her birth (see his December 15, 1863 letter), and it was Walt's preferred nickname for his niece. Another source for the nickname's origin may be the adaptation of a slang term for money—"california it is full of tents"—from an exclamation that Louisa made upon seeing soldiers gathered on Fort Greene in Brooklyn (see her August 31 or September 2, 1863 letter to Walt). [back]

14. The name of the "captain" and the "contest taken by the alabamans" are unclear. If a ship captain, it cannot be Homer C. Blake, the captain of the USS Hatteras, the only Union warship taken by the CSS Alabama, because Blake was not a Brooklyn resident. Perhaps this captain commanded one of the many merchant vessels taken by the warship CSS Alabama during its career as a commerce raider. Or this captain may have been associated with a Union defeat in the land war. [back]

15. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman presumably refers to an article in the Brooklyn Daily Times by the newspaper's former title. George C. Bennet's Williamsburgh Times was renamed theBrooklyn Daily Times in 1855. Walt Whitman worked at the paper from 1857 to 1859. See Walt Whitman, Emory Holloway, and Vernolian Schwarz, I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 12–20. [back]


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