Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [6–27 April? 1867]

Date: April 6–27?, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 27 April 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.00480

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



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saturday 2 oclock1

my dear Walt

i2 have just receeved your letter with 1 dollar in it the rain perhaps deterd my getting it earlyer but i was glad to get it any how glad to hear from you that you are having time to take some recreations3 and very glad to have the dollar you will say a dollar aint much but sometimes it is worth more than 2 or 3 at another time george has had more than usual to pay this month in sessments and insurance4 but i have had quite considerable from him so i wanted a letter to day and it come from the good old stand by) Jeffy5 worried quite much because he couldent leave me something in the way of a present but he said he had to pay so much more away than he expected that he was rather short but he would send me some when he got back6 i told him i got along very well to not worry about that he went away tuesday night he is not going strait home but will arrive home if nothing happens on monday night we had company almost all of last week which made me more short of funds but i dident want for anything) george has got the galaxy just come with it7 walt i suppose you see that little peice in the thursday times8 about your being the only american poet9 i cut it out and was going to send it to jeff if you havent seen it i will send it to you georgey is quit pumping on the water works mr Lane10 puts great confidence in him the new mane that was laid last fall leaks in many places george had to go the other night to see about it mr lane came here very much alarmed it spouts out almost lik a foun[tain?] so yesterday they stopped it george was mud from head to foot) walter dea[r?] give my love to mr and mrs Oconer11 likewise the boroughs 12 and take the rest for yourself

good bie

aint the galaxy13 large and reel nice


Notes:

1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter only to a Saturday. The date assigned by Richard Maurice Bucke, April 27, 1867, is defensible. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378).The letter's contents seem to match the period between Thomas Jefferson Whitman's offer of employment at the St. Louis Water Works and his departure for the position. And if so, this letter corresponds also to the appearance of Eugene Benton's appraisal of Walt Whitman in the April 1867 Galaxy. However, a review to which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers from the previous "thursday times," which would be April 25, 1867 if the date is correct, raises significant doubts with regard to the date of this letter. Louisa reports that she encloses a clipping from the "thursday times" in which Whitman is labeled the "only american poet." If she has misnamed the newspaper, she may refer to Ferdinand Freiligrath's "Walt Whitman" (Boston Commonwealth, July 4, 1868) or possibly to an unknown article in the London Saturday Review that Horace Traubel dates September 21, 1867. Either article, if enclosed, would change the date of this letter. If the sentiment is more general and not a direct quotation, the most likely newspaper for the enclosed clipping is the Brooklyn Daily Times or the New York Times. If a later date is proposed, it should correspond to a recent visit to Brooklyn by Thomas Jefferson Whitman. Another factor is George Washington Whitman's work for Moses Lane on the "new mane that was laid last fall." George is also said to be working on the "new main" in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's June 20, 1867 and March 6, 1868 letters to Walt. If Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phrase "only american poet" is a quote from an article, this letter's date is incorrect. If her phrase is not a quotation, April 27, 1867, or any Saturday in April is a reasonable date for this letter. [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. If the letter dates late April 1867, is not certain what "recreations" Louisa Van Velsor Whitman has in mind. On April 23, 1867 Walt Whitman wrote that he had a visit from William O'Connor, that he visited soldiers in a hospital, and that he spent some time listening to the bells of the St. Aloysius Church. A week earlier, he had attended a concert (see Walt's April 16, 1867 letter to Louisa). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. If the letter dates April 1867, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's travel and shortness of funds are connected to an offer that he received in early March 1867 to become the chief engineer of the St. Louis Water Works. He began work in St. Louis on May 7, 1867. Though a letter from Jeff Whitman to Walt Whitman informing him of the offer is not extant, see Jeff Whitman's March 16, 1867 enclosure in his letter to Walt that he directed to William D. O'Connor. On Jeff's St. Louis offer, see Walt Whitman's April 29, 1867 letter to Jeff Whitman and the notes for Jeff Whitman's May 23, 1867 letter to Walt. [back]

7. In "Literature and the People" Eugene Benson counts Whitman among "noble literary contemporaries" as the representative of American poetry, because he is among a group of writers who have "corrected us, moved us, liberated us" (The Galaxy 3 [April 1867], 875). For the poet's relationship with Benson and The Galaxy, see Robert J. Scholnick, "'Culture' or Democracy: Whitman, Eugene Benson, and The Galaxy," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 13 (Spring 1996), 189–198. [back]

8. Neither the New York Times of April 25, 1867, a Thursday, nor of the day preceding or following, has a mention of Walt Whitman. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may refer to the Brooklyn Daily Times, but the brief review to which the letter refers is not known. [back]

9. The earliest claimed reference of Walt Whitman as the "only American poet" appeared in the September 21, 1867 issue of the London Saturday Review, according to Horace Traubel (With Walt Whitman in Camden [Boston: Small, Maynard, 1906], 1:242). The first verified reference to Walt Whitman as the "only American poet," however, is usually credited to Ferdinand Freiligrath ("Walt Whitman," Boston Commonwealth, July 4, 1868). Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman spoke well of Freiligrath's article in his July 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. If Louisa's letter refers to a comment or selection from either of these articles, the letter cannot date to April 1867.  [back]

10. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. For more information on Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman. [back]

11. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen 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]

12. John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Walt Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs wrote several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Birds and Poets (1877), Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (1867), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and also became a friend to Walt Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, see "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)." [back]

13. William Conant Church (1836–1917) and his brother Francis Pharcellus Church (1839–1906) established the Galaxy in 1866. For a time, the Churches considered Walt Whitman a regular contributor, printing several of his poems, including "A Carol of Harvest for 1867," "Brother of All, With Generous Hand," "Warble for Lilac-Time," and "O Star of France." For more on Whitman's relationship with the Galaxy, see "Whitman's Poems in Periodicals—The Galaxy." [back]


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