Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [23 February 1869]

Date: February 23, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn–25 Feb 1868 to attorney general's office wash.," 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.00515

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



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my dear Walter1

i got your letter all safe to day wensday it was rather late but it come yesterday was a tremendous rain the water has been a foot deep in the cellar they say the rats has undermined it but it has dried away some its a low place the water settles in the yard it is better george2 sold it they are much pleased with it say they wouldent take 1000 dols for their bargain

mrs Steers3 gets along very well with her bakery) we have had mrs Black4 here she has just gone and quite a releif it is too she come she said to tell me of a sure cure for the rheumatis5 i asked her what it was she said put a potato in each pocket and wear them in your pocket till they are hard and the rheumatis will i supos go in the potato

she asked me when she went away if i would doo it i told her i would carry half a dozen if they would do me any good

well walt i am glad you are bettr of your distress in your head very many people is complaining of colds well the president cant pardon very many more rouges you know i suppose Devlin is pardoned6 the papers say peirpont is to be the attorney genrall7 but i suppose you will know soon

i hear from Jeff and mat8 once in a while Jeff has or has had great anxiety about the works the river rises so much higher than usual that there is fear of the overflowing of their works poo Jeff i expect he is in lots of trouble but as we understood Davis9 it wouldent doo such an amount of damage if it did overflow but Jeff is so nervous)

walter dear if you can as well as not i wish you would send me the draft next week) George had to make a paym[ent?] the other day and had to take all he had to make it out)10

give my love to the oconors and love to yourself)11


Louisa Whitman12


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 23, 1869. In the body of the letter, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman said she wrote on Wednesday. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 25, 1868, but his date must be ruled out. Bucke's year "1868" may be a slip of the pen both because February 25, 1868 fell on Tuesday and because another February 25 letter dates near the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 (see Louisa's February 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver dated this letter a year later, "February? 1869," and Edwin Haviland Miller reported their date (Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 199–200; Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The letter informs Walt about his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's difficulties with the rising river in St. Louis, and Louisa probably relied on a letter from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman that survives only as an undated fragment. Randall H. Waldron dated Mattie's letter fragment to February 1869 on the basis of Gohdes and Silver's date for this Louisa Van Velsor Whitman letter (see Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 67, 67, n. 1). The year 1869 is certain, but the range of possible dates in February can be narrowed to the latter part of month based on Louisa's remarks on the transition between the presidential administrations of Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, which draw from her reading of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The letter dates to February 23, 1869, when a rumor first circulated that Edwards Pierrepont could be appointed as the attorney general under incoming president Ulysses S. Grant. Another remark on political news, on Andrew Johnson's pardon of John C. Devlin, probably comes from an article that appeared a week before the Pierrepont rumor surfaced. Louisa's remarks on political events seldom come more than a week after they are reported in the newspaper. In addition, another extant letter from Louisa to Walt dates to March 4, 1869, and it is highly unlikely that this letter was written only one day after that one. Therefore, the date of the initial Pierrepont article, February 23, 1869 (Wednesday), is certain as this letter's date. [back]

2. 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]

3. Margret Steers, her husband Thomas Steers (1826–1869), and their four children Thomas (b. 1853), Caroline (b. 1857), Louisa (b. 1862), and Margret (b. 1865) moved into the Atlantic Avenue building in November 1868. Thomas Steers operated a bakery, and his wife, who would become a close friend of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, continued the business when he died in January 1869. After Thomas Steers' sudden death, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman replied to an early 1869 letter from Louisa (not extant) with concern that "Mr. Steers' death had quite an effect on you." George Washington Whitman sold a property to Margaret Steers in January 1871, and the property had title trouble with regard to unpaid assessments (see Mattie Whitman's February? 1869 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 67; Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 4, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman; "Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1869, 3; United States Census, 1870. New York, Brooklyn Ward 7, Kings, District 1; and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 3–24?, 1871 letter to Walt). [back]

4. 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]

5. Rheumatism or arthritic rheumatism, which Louisa also spelled "rheumattis" or "rhumatis," is joint pain, which was attributed to dry joints. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 704. [back]

6. John Devlin was sentenced to two years imprisonment in February 1868 on the charge of running an unlicensed whiskey ring (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 5, 1868, 3). Outgoing President Andrew Johnson pardoned Devlin on February 16, 1869. The Devlin pardon was politically inflammatory because a Brooklyn Collector of Revenue, T. C. Callicott, was held to be party to Devlin's effort to defraud the government, though only John Devlin was convicted. The Eagle editorialized in favor of Johnson's pardon, minimized the suggestion of corruption, and implied that Benjamin F. Tracy, District Attorney for Kings County, New York, had overreached on a petty case ("Devlin's Pardon—A Query for District Attorney Tracy," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 17, 1869, 2). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman read against the grain of the Democratic-leaning Eagle's editorial slant. She had indicated her skepticism toward the politics of the newspaper in her February 17, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman: "the old eagle how i dislike it yet i take it if i dident see any other paper i should think andy was perfection and all the rest was crushed." [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman followed the potential appointments for attorney general closely because Walt Whitman was serving as a clerk in that office. Edwards Pierrepont (1817–1892) actively supported Republican candidate for president Ulysses S. Grant, and Pierrepont was rumored to be under consideration for appointment as attorney general ("Topics of To-day," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 23, 1869, 3). Grant, upon taking office, passed over Pierrepont for that office and instead appointed him the United States attorney for the southern district of New York (New York Times, April 28, 1869, 7). Pierrepont eventually joined Grant's cabinet as attorney general, but not until 1875 (Bruce Tap, "Pierrepont, Edwards," American National Biography Online). [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's mark to separate this paragraph from next, a short vertical slash or solidus, is on the next line, and the mark might be considered to enclose the next phrase, to precede the word "give." Louisa's mark most often resembles in shape a closing parenthesis mark. The mark has been transcribed, here as elsewhere, as a closing parenthesis, with no paired opening parenthesis. The choice of the closing parenthesis to represent Louisa's mark is to signal that the grammatical function for the mark is generally to close the previous phrase. Nonetheless, the range of styles for the mark are diverse, from marks that more closely resemble a vertical pipe to those that more closely resemble a comma. A vertical pipe is also a reasonable transcription for this mark. [back]

11. 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]

12. 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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