Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 15 December [1867]

Date: December 15, 1867

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 15 Dec 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.00509

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



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December the 151

Dear Walt

i thought i would write a few lines2 if it wasent sunday to say i got your letter with the ten dollars and am very much Obliged to you for it i hope i shant get in such A straet again for a little change there seems to be so many little things you think you want when you aint got anything to get with) we are all well Jeff3 has got well again he eats so heartily and late that i tell him he will feel it when he grows older sis4 is as fat as she can well be and hatty5 is well they are two troublesome children enoughf to be in one house i told hatty to day to not come down any more she is such a mischieveous girl i get up very early and that seems to be the only time i can get my work done but they will be older and i hope better one of these days Well Walt georgee6 has got nearly over his quiet spell and seems like old times again i hope it wont occur again very soon i cant bear to have any body so and not know what is the cause i thought of every thing i had said if i had said anything to give him reason but i dont think i did any thing) he is getting along pretty well with his work they have got another job not very extensive a house to fit up in warren st i dont think they will make a great deal out of the job in new york but it is only my surmise George dont say much about it they have taken up 1000 dollars and George says he has paid it all out but perhaps they will do better than i think)

i am going to write to han7 i have left the dinner table standing to write this and will write to her as there is a lull in the young fry department i wish tha[t?] you would write to that man about jim he certainly is going to destruction8 i wrote a note to nancy9 to ask her if she would fix him up10 but she nor him has not been here since she has very many things given her that she might do very well


L Whitman


Notes:

1. This letter dates to December 15, 1867. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "December the 15," and the letter begins, "if it wasent sunday." The most probable reading is that she wrote her letter on Sunday, and December 15, 1867 fell on Sunday. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence (New York: New York University Press, 1961–77), 1:356, n. 54; 1:379). The year is consistent with the presence of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his family in Brooklyn and with efforts to remove James "Jimmy" Whitman, son of Walt's deceased brother Andrew Jackson Whitman, from the care of his mother Nancy McClure Whitman, an effort that would intensify in spring 1868. Other factors consistent with the year 1867 are the status of George Washington Whitman's business of building houses on speculation and the casual reference to daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde. The latter reference rules out the following year because in late 1868 Hannah had a serious infection required amputation of her thumb in December. [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. 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]

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. 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]

6. 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]

7. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa wrote, "if heyde was kind to her she would get well" (see her November 11–14, 1868 letter to Walt). [back]

8. In Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's request to Walt Whitman that he "write to that man about young jim," the phrase "that man" most likely refers to Edward McClure, the brother of Nancy McClure, who was the spouse of Louisa's deceased son Andrew Jackson Whitman. James "Jimmy" was Louisa's grandson, the child of Andrew and Nancy. The effort to remove Nancy's children resumed with greater intensity the following year. After a May 1868 visit that from Jane McClure (Edward McClure's wife), Louisa wrote to Walt that the McClures sought to have Jim placed into a public orphan asylum (see her May 1868 letter to Walt). In May 1868, Louisa asked Walt to write to James Cornwell, a friend of Andrew who served as a judge in the Brooklyn City Hall. [back]

9. 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]

10. The paragraph continues in the right margin of the page, then continues in the top margin (inverted), and concludes in the left margin. [back]


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