Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 1 August [1867]

Date: August 1, 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.00503

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



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August 11

my dear Walt

i2 will try once more to write A line to say we are all about the same only the hot weather is disappeard in some measure it was bad enoughf here we had awfull bad smells mr hambler3 said it came from the privy s in pacific st the yards in that street backs up to ours4 but they are very or quite respectable houses he said he had complained to the board of health but whither they have done any thing or not we dont smell it to day) the sewer i believe is not in that street there is a water closet in this yard when we came here it was all out of order dident work at all I told the man I wished he would have it fixed but he dident doo it then i told the landlady it made me sick every time i went in so after a while he went to work and fixed it they are so fraid of laying out one cent and want such A high rent I paid him the rent last night that makes fifty doll since we have been) here we pay in advance i told george5 300 dolrs A year would help on a house its too much rent but we couldent doo no better then if we only had one more room or the bedrooms were any size but they are so small the rooms is very deep but not very wide they are 40 feet deep i got so many envelopes i shall have to write whether im lame or not they all come safe Walt and i was glad to have them it is so handy to have in the [hand?] the money and the package all come yesterday i think this letter carrier is very correct i dont know whats the matter with matt6 i havent had a letter from her in quite a long time i expected one yesterday to be shure i got one from mary7 it was for matty but it was directed mrs Whitman city hall care of mr lane8 so they sent it here she was to portsmouth9 when she wrote but was coming home and wrote for matt to come to greenport10 but i gess mat wont go this summer) Edd11 went down and found where nancy12 lived yesterday she moved in the same st they are all fat edd says and dirty but grow any how he said the house looked better than formerly i was glad to hear from them i ha[ve?] thought about them often this hot weather i feel to sympathise with mr Oconor13 in his getting a house i think its about the worst and most disagreable fix any one can be in Walt doo you know i like his writings the good gray poet better than i doo borroug[hs?] book14 Oconers shows the spirit its wrote in i should form an idea of the man if i had never seen him by reading his writing i suppose you see that peice in the sunday times as you dident say any thing about it15 i will send it i wish september would hurry up so you could come we will make out for room so come as soon as you can) george is pretty well now

good bie walter


Notes:

1. This letter dates to August 1, 1867. "August 1" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). The year is correct because Louisa had moved recently to the 1194 Atlantic Street boarding house after her departure from 840 Pacific Street (see herJune 20, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). This letter has the first mention of her new neighbor, Mr. Hambler, who departed from Atlantic Street later in the year. [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. Mr. Hambler (or Hamblen) was a soap maker who lived downstairs from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In her November 19, 1867 letter, she reported to Walt that he "is gone bought a house and moved all his manufactory which was immence." [back]

4. According to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's June 20, 1867 letter, she expected to depart from the 840 Pacific Street home on the "last of june." She moved to 1194 Atlantic Street, as Walt Whitman reported in his July 27, 1867 letter to Abby Price: "Mother has moved to 1194 Atlantic street—(not av.)—opposite Hamilton st." [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her July 8, 1868 letter reported Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's confidence that George Washington Whitman's connection to Lane offered assurance of stable employment. Lane later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer, and he again employed George to inspect pipe in Camden, New Jersey. For Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see his January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff Whitman. For Lane's career, see "Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58. [back]

9. Portsmouth is probably Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a city on the border of Maine with a naval shipyard. [back]

10. Greenport is a seaport village near the end of the northern fork of Long Island, New York. It was the home of Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand and family. [back]

11. 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]

12. Nancy McClure Whitman was the widowed wife of Andrew Jackson Whitman. For the identification of McClure as Nancy's maiden name and information on Andrew's wife and children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 12, n. 32; 13–14. [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]

14. "The Good Gray Poet" is William D. O'Connor's spirited defense of Walt Whitman against charges of indecency, issued in pamphlet form in 1866.

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 was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." 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). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]."  [back]

15. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had spotted an unsigned New York Times reprint of William Michael Rossetti's review, which was significant for Walt Whitman's European reputation ("Walt Whitman's Poems," London Chronicle, July 6, 1867, 362–363). Though Walt Whitman was already aware that a London edition of his poems was being considered, he may not have yet known exact details of the article's appearance in the London Chronicle because in his July 27, 1867 letter to Abby H. Price he had requested her assistance in acquiring "two or three copies" of the article. Rossetti in the review described Leaves of Grass as "incomparably the largest poetic work of our period" (see "Current Literature," New York Times, July 28, 1867, 2). Walt Whitman had forwarded a copy of Leaves of Grass "for republication in England" (see his July 24, 1867 letter to Moncure D. Conway). In his November 1, 1867 letter to the Conway, Whitman stated, "I have no objection to [Rossetti's] substituting words." Whitman hesitated but ultimately accepted the compromise necessary to bring his work to a British public, but he later regretted acquiescing. Rossetti's expurgated edition appeared as Poems by Walt Whitman. Selected and Edited by William Michael Rossetti (London: Hotten, 1868).  [back]


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