Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 17 February [1868]

Date: February 17, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 17 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.00513

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



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monday 171

dear Walt

i have got this letter by times it is only half past 12 on monday and i have got it the one was mailed on sunday i mean2 and i couldent rest contented untill i wrote to let you know i had got it with the 5 dollar and i got one on saturday with 2 doller so you see i can stand another snow storm and be comfortable but i dont think it will be much of a storm this time) also i got all the papers3 last week and have got three to day with the letter the letter man is most too clever the 50 cts and i have given him 25 since) i find giving such people a small sum once in a while does much good and i always say thank you when he gives me a letter i dont know what i would have done yesterday without those papers i had harpers weekly4 and the papers so i got through the day quite well) i got a letter from matty5 to day she likes it very well there now she has got acquainted with some of the boarders one lady invited her out to ride in a beautiful carriage she says she has been so awfull homesick she has got over in in some measure but i expect matt wants to see me she misses me more than she thought she should but when they get keeping house she will get better contented there is a first rate school near where they are going to live so hattee6 can go i would send the letter7 but i think she will write to you herself soon well Walt molly8 hasent come yet i expected her sure them fine days last week i wrote two letters to her saying in the last one we should expect her the first good day) i wish i could get a letter from han9 i wrote very particularly about it that you wrote often to her that we supposed she got them but we never heard from her and i wanted her to come this spring and make us a good visit but i have not had any answer)10

george11 is away yet i looked some for him yesterday but he dident come mrs Hageman where he used to board12 was buried yesterday i dident know she was sick till i see her death in the eagle (the old eagle how i dislike it yet i take it if i dident see any other paper i should think andy13 was perfection and all the rest was crushed general grant14 in the bargain) he must be a bad man i like the chronicle very much)15 i was in hopes mrs Oconor16 had returned for his sake if he is not very well it would probably make him more comfortable) matty says Jeffy17 is much better there than in brooklyn he is in very good spirits and glad they came i have expected davis18 all last week but he is to come this week matty says) but they will eventually she says settle in brookly[n?] i hope soon to say something about mooving we are getting rather to many in this house for mammas ideas good luck to you walter dear dont you remember your poor old father19 always wished that wish to every one

good bie
LW20


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 17, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "monday 17," and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to February 17, 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). February 17, 1868 fell on Monday. Louisa had received daughter Mary Van Nostrand's February 15, 1868 letter, and the month and year are consistent with multiple letter topics: Congressional debate on President Andrew Johnson's impeachment, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's February 13, 1868 letter from St. Louis, and the recent death of Elizabeth Hegamen. [back]

2. Neither letter from Walt Whitman to his mother, the one mailed Sunday, February 16, 1868, or the one that arrived in Brooklyn on Saturday, presumably mailed the previous Thursday or Friday (February 13 or 14), is extant. [back]

3. The "papers" are newspapers. See the discussion of President Andrew Johnson's impeachment below. [back]

4. Harper's Weekly debuted in 1857. Though designed like its sister monthly to promote British reprints, Harper's Weekly was notable for its Civil War coverage and began publishing American writers in the ensuing decades. Walt Whitman's poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" appeared in the September 28, 1861 issue of the newspaper, and two poems by Whitman were first published in the periodical in the 1880s (for all works by Whitman, see Harper's Weekly Magazine). [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. In her February 13, 1868 letter from St. Louis, Mattie Whitman reported that she had located a rental house and a nearby school for daughter Manahatta (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 46–48). [back]

8. This instance is the only time that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman used the nickname "Molly" for her elder daughter Mary (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899), but it was Mary's nickname. In mid-February, the illness and expected death of Fanny Van Nostrand (Mary's husband Ansel's mother) had delayed Mary's plans for a visit to Louisa. However, Mary promised—were Louisa to request a visit—that "you will see molly quick" (see Mary's February 15, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Trent Collection, Duke University). Louisa also informed Walt Whitman that weather would delay her daughter's visit: "mary hasent come yet the weather has been very bad indeed so i think she could not have got here last sunday was awfull" (see her February 12, 1868 letter to Walt). Mary, Walt Whitman's younger sister, married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they lived in Greenport, Long Island. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Isadore "Minnie." See Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949), 206. [back]

9. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

10. Charles L. Heyde rejected Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's proposal for Hannah Heyde's visit to Brooklyn. Louisa wrote in a March 11, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman that her request to Heyde had "stirred him up." [back]

11. 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]

12. George Washington Whitman had rented a room from Elizabeth Hegeman when he returned to Brooklyn, New York after the Civil War in 1865 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's August 29, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman). Hegeman died on Thursday, February 13, 1868 at the age of 73 ("Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 14, 1868, 3). [back]

13. Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) became President of the United States after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Johnson was the first president to be impeached, but the Radical Republican efforts to remove him from office ultimately failed. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman alludes to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's Democratic Party leanings and to its opposition to Johnson's impeachment. Louisa read widely in political news: she subscribed to the Eagle and at various times also read the New York Times, the New York Herald, and the Brooklyn Daily Union. Walt Whitman in his January 26, 1868 letter had advised his mother to "take a morning paper, the Times or something" because the debates on Johnson's impeachment "are quite interesting now." According to Louisa's February 19, 1868 letter to Walt, she was also reading the Washington Star, presumably a copy that Walt had forwarded. [back]

14. Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822–1885) was the highest ranking Union general of the Civil War. As commander of the Army of the Potomac, he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Grant was elected to two consecutive terms as president, in 1868 and in 1872. [back]

15. The "chronicle" that Walt forwarded with impeachment news is presumably a Washington daily newspaper, the Morning Chronicle, which was published from 1862 to 1874. Walt published a promotional piece about himself in the Sunday Morning Chronicle on May 9, 1869, and he wrote that he was working on a revised Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:80–81, n. 14). [back]

16. 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]

17. 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]

18. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

19. Walter Whitman, Sr., (1789–1855) married Louisa Van Velsor in 1816. Walter, Sr., was a free-thinker and rationalist who rejected organized religion. He and Louisa had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. For more information on Walter, see "Whitman, Walter, Sr. (1789–1855)." [back]

20. 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]


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