Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [12 February 1868]

Date: February 12, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "12 Feb. 1868," 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.00512

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



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Wensday 1 oclock1

O Walt

i2 have just got your letter i thought it was a goner but it has come all safe with the 2 doller i got the letter of last thursday Walter and the one i neglected to speak of of some time ago of a friday so i have not missed any the last weeks one i liked its giving a description of how you spent your time) and i got the franklyn almanack3 but i have not got the papers you spoke off to day but probably shall get them to morrow4 the carrier seems very Obliging i gave him the 50 cts for new year and last week i gave him 25 cts as he had brought me a number of books and the almanac its a real good one much better than the tribune one5 so i think i will make out for almanacks this year mary6 hasent come yet the weather has been very bad indeed so i think she could not have got here last sunday was awfu[ll?] Edd7 went to church but had sence enoughf to come home before dark he fell twice but only wet him it dident hurt him i see in the eagle monday there was 7 women all down at once in orange st sunday night came from Beechers church8 it was very bad indeed toward evening who should come here but Emma price9 she said she come out from the clouds she came from mrs Wells s10 but she had a pretty bad time of it she missed her way and got way up to mrs blacks11 so when she got here it was almost night she had on rubber boots but had gone over the tops in water so she took it off and dried her feet and had to go back she said mrs wells would be uneasy about her if she dident go back) i felt uneasy very after she went and i see how very bad it was but i suppose she got safe as i have not heard any thing her mother is not as well as she has been has spells of her old complai[nt?]12

i have had two letters from Matt13 since the one i sent to you the first she seemed quite homesick the next she is quite contented they have got a house at last from the 1 of march 7 rooms for 65 dolle per month had to take it for two years or not have it matt says Jeff14 is glad they come he is very tired of hotell life this house is out of the thick part of the city matt says the children is very much pleased the boarders makes very much of sis she tells them all about her grandma and her uncles she says they think the water dont agree with them in the morning when they first get up they often all vomit at once she is very carefull about their diet she says) George15 is to camden yet i dont think he will be home till the last of the month i went down Walt and got the money order cashed in a day or two after i recieved it) i am feeling as well as usual) O i like to forgot matt says they got your letter and was so glad that you must write as often as you can and she will write to you so no more at present Walter dear) so your writin[g?] again leaves of grass16 well if it dont hurt you i am glad


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 12, 1868. The day of the week, Wednesday, is in Louisa's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date February 12, 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). The letter paraphrases a story about women who slipped on the ice on their way to a service at the church attended by Edward Whitman, Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. The story appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on February 10, 1868, a Monday. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman presumably refers to the Old Franklin Almanack, no. 9 (Philadelphia: A. Winch, 1867). According to her February 27, 1867 letter, Walt had sent her two almanacs the previous year. [back]

4. Though no letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from early February 1868 is extant, he probably forwarded newspapers with coverage of the House of Representatives, which was considering drawing articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson. Walt recommended that his mother "take a morning paper, the Times or something" because the debates on impeachment "are quite interesting now" (see his January 26, 1868 letter to his mother). [back]

5. For the 1868 issue, see Alex J. Schem, compiler, The Tribune Almanac and Political Register (New York: Tribune Association, 1867). The 1868 almanac, with 108 pages, sold at retail for 20 cents. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. The church is Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. Beecher (1813–1887), Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. The short article in the newspaper cautioned readers about icy streets and satirized the dedication of Beecher's parishioners. The seven women were "stretched upon the sidewalk, in Cranberry Street," which led to Plymouth Church on Fulton Street (see "The Slippery Sidewalk," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1868, 3). Brooklyn's Orange Street runs parallel to Cranberry Street. [back]

9. Emily "Emmy" or "Emma" Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price, who were friends of Walt Whitman and his mother. Emily and her sister Helen were regular visitors to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

10. Mrs. Wells, presumably a friend of the Price family or Emily Price, has not been identified. [back]

11. Mrs. Black was a neighbor of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She is also mentioned in Louisa's March 11, 1868, March 13, 20, or 27?, 1868, and March 16, 1870 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]

12. Abby Price's "spells" were asthma (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 17, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). For Walt Whitman's relationship with Abby Hills Price (1814–1878) and family, see Sherry Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 45–95. [back]

13. For Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's February 1, 1868 letter, presumably one of these "two letters," see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 44–46. Mattie was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. Jeff moved to St. Louis in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie and her daughters joined him in early February 1868. For more on Mattie, see Waldron, 1–26. [back]

14. 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]

15. 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]

16. Walt Whitman's February 9?, 1868 letter (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:360), though it is more likely to date February 10 or 11, 1868, is not extant. Based on this response from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Walt in his letter informed Louisa that he was again working on Leaves of Grass. Presumably, he had begun the revisions that led to the fifth American edition (1871–72). For more on that edition, see Lee Mancuso, "Leaves of Grass, 1871–72 Edition."According to Mancuso, Walt Whitman began revising for the fifth edition "as early as summer 1869," but this letter indicates that he was writing or revising Leaves of Grass actively in February 1868. If Whitman's revision for the 1871–72 edition began in early 1868, the correspondence concerning William Michael Rossetti's expurgated London edition may have played a significant role in prompting Whitman to return to his poems (see Poems by Walt Whitman. Selected and Edited by William Michael Rossetti [London: Hotten, 1868]). [back]


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