Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: October 20, 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.00505

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



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Octo 20th1

well Walter

it is sunday and no word nor letter have i2 got yet i am very confidant you have sent my accustomed letter3 and it has been taken it makes me feel almost sick i wanted to hear from you what you thought of the proposition of the portland ave property and i wanted to hear from you any how it seems like six months since i got a letter4 i spoke to the letter carrier on friday he would hardly stop long enoughf for me to say any thing to him) all he said its none of my fault its none of my fault in A quick way and hurried on you have undoubtably got the letter i sent on thursday last5 and the one i wrote the wensday i got your last the 9th6 when it dident come last w[ed?]nsday i was fearfull something was wrong but as i sometimes dident get it till thursday i thought i would wait but now i have no hopes of it george7 wants very much to know what you think of the plan of the shop smith8 dont care so much to sell it now he sais this nise of property he thinks will pay to keep it but he will sell it but aint so anxious too as he was) martha and the children are well marthe9 is very discontended she wants Jeff10 to come and she dont want hi[m?] to come as she aint ready to go yet she is going to hire a sewing machine ½ month and she said if i would get one or two common gowns sh[e?] would stich them for me and i was going to get one out of my remittance last week but got disappointed) i am about the sam[e?] walter dear as i was whe[n?] you was here the medicine dont seem to benefit me much yet but i take it yet it is very war[m?] here) helen and emma price11 was here the other day to dinner) i would wri[te?] more walter but i cant this time

good b[ie?] walter dear

i was glad your peice was done12


Notes:

1. This letter dates to October 20, 1867. Both Richard Maurice Bucke and Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter to October 20, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "Octo 20" and referred to the day she wrote as Sunday, which is correct for the year 1867. The letter's concerns about Thomas Jefferson and Martha Mitchell Whitman are consistent with this period, and the letter resumes the subjects of Louisa's October 17, 1867 letter to Walt, which was written "thursday last." [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. For her receipt of the "accustomed letter," in which Walt Whitman enclosed $10, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's October 22, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. Edwin Haviland Miller dated Walt's lost letter October 20, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:370). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman exaggerated the time since the last letter, but the most recent extant letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa is from April 30, 1867. Walt Whitman's October 9, 1867 letter (mentioned later in this letter) is not extant. One reason for the lack of recent letters was that Walt visited Brooklyn from mid- to late-September 1867. Louisa reported her receipt of Walt's delayed letter on October 22, 1867[back]

5. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's October 17, 1867 letter, the "thursday last." [back]

6. Though the letter that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman received on October 9, 1867 is not extant, Walt Whitman may have reported to her his recent completion of the essay "Democracy" for the Galaxy. In Louisa's October 22, 1867 letter, she referred to the non-extant letter as "sent the 8th." [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. A man known only as Smith was George Washington Whitman's partner in building houses on speculation. Walt Whitman described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to Burroughs). The lot with the carpenter's shop, which belonged to Smith, was on Putnam Avenue (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 2, 1867 letter to Walt). Louisa asked Walt about purchasing the shop as a residence for herself (see her October 16 or 23, 1867 letter to Walt). [back]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. Helen and Emily "Emma" Price were the daughters of Abby and Edmund Price and friends with Walt Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Helen's reminiscences of Walt were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to His Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

12. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's postscript runs vertically in the right margin of the first page. The piece to which the postscript refers is Walt Whitman's "Democracy" (Galaxy 4 [December 1867], 919–33, reprinted in Democratic Vistas [Washington, 1871]). Walt Whitman announced the completion of "Democracy" to Francis P. Church and William C. Church in his October 13, 1867 letter and forwarded a copy the following week. He presumably reported to Louisa that he had completed "Democracy" in the letter that she received on October 9, 1867 (see above). [back]


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