Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [20 June 1867]

Date: June 20, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "20 June 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.00502

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2


thursday 10 oclock1

My dear Walt

i2 received your letter yesterday with the 10 dollr and the one on friday with the 2 i shall keep the ten to move with it comes very good we shall move the last of june so walt you can send your next weeks letter the same as this and after that i will write how to direct) i am glad Walt you keep well that is the greatest blessing after all) i fell quite smart considering i have to work so very hard i feel when i lie down at night as if i should not be able to get up in the morning but when morning comes i feel better matty3 and sis4 has gone to woodbridge new jersey near perth amboy5 to see if she can get board i dont much expect she will get any place but would be very glad if she does she is not very well and the young ones never was half so much trouble i dont think in their lives as they are now their mother says she dont know what to doo with them matty worked on the machine6 and has had a bad coughf i think her working on the machine so steady hurt her i wanted her to stop but she wanted to get so much done but she is much better now only has a slight coughf) george7 is at work on the new main as they call it as inspector i beleive that s what they call it he stands it midling well it is standing and walking but yesterday he had to walk very far to get here he was where he couldent ride his legs troubles him some get lame he was here to breakfast this morning but felt as if he would like to loaf and live at his ease8 there was no particular need as i told him of his going to work so soon but he seemed inclined to doo so i shall be glad when i get down town on his account it is so far up here he has had a wonderfull appetite after being sick but its not so good now but that is nothing strange his face dont appear to bloat any more we have letters from Jeff9 quite often he worries very much about matti and the children and mammy i told mat to not write every thing to worry him it would doo us no good but you know how mat is she has certainly not had a beginning of work to doo but she has felt not very well and very fretful it [is?]10 amusing to see the folks wach us to see if we make any preperations to move but nary a word doo they speak i dont think they would be quite so bad if mrs beecher11 hadent given them directions the other day the girl went out and they tied one door with a rope and locked the other edd12 went down to get a pail of water but couldent get in i told him to go to the hydrant matt said he shouldent so she went down [stairs?] and got the key i should move if the place was finished as small as it is but it has to be paint[ed?] and it would be so bad but i think i would be very much better of there than here the place has had very many improvemen[ts?]

good bie Walter dear

i am very sorry for the Oconnors13 very indeed


Notes:

1. This letter dates to June 20, 1867. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "Thursday" and explained to Walt that she expected to move from the 840 Pacific Street home on the "last of June." Since she directed Walt to send "next weeks letter" to the same address, this letter must date at least one week before her move at the end of June 1867. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date June 20, 1867, and June 20 fell on a Thursday, the day of the week in her hand, in 1867. Edwin Haviland Miller also dated a letter from Louisa to Walt Whitman to June 20, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The letter is consistent with Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's expected departure from the Pacific Street house and with the Thursday that preceded the end-of-June move, so the date assigned by Bucke and Miller is correct. [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. 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. The nickname "Sis" refers to Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta "Hattie" were both favorites of their uncle Walt. The nickname "Sis" was given first to Manahatta but was passed to her younger sister Jessie Louisa when Manahatta became "Hattie." [back]

5. Woodbridge and Perth Amboy are municipalities in the northeast corner of New Jersey, across from Staten Island, New York. [back]

6. The machine is a Singer Sewing Machine. For Martha Mitchell Whitman's contract sewing, see Robert Roper, Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War (New York: Walter and Company, 2008), 92–93. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phrase "loaf and live at his ease" evokes one of the most famous lines in all of Whitman's poetry, from the second stanza of Leaves of Grass (1855), "I lean and loafe at my ease." Whether Louisa echoes Walt's poem, later to be titled "Song of Myself" (1881–1882), or whether the poem is an echo of her familial expression is unknown. [back]

9. 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]

10. The word from context is almost certainly "is." [back]

11. Mrs. Beecher is Eunice White Beecher, the wife of Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregational clergyman who accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Debby Applegate provides a brief profile of the minister's wife (The Most Famous Man in America [New York: Doubleday, 1996], 82, 317). [back]

12. 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. [back]

13. For a time Walt Whitman 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 O'Connor had a close personal relationship with Whitman, and 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]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.