Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [3 March 1868]

Date: March 3, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "3 March," 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.00516

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



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tuesday noon1

My dear walt

i2 have just got your letter with 5 dollars and i got the one on friday or saturday with 1 dl and i have received the paper s with the letter so it is all come safe3 i am very glad to hear mrs Oconor arrived safely i intended to say to her to speak to you about writing if she got through all safe i had no idea of seeing Jennie such a large girl)4 i was not feel[ing?] very well that day and i thought i would go out a short distance and i would feel better so i [w?]ent up to fulton av to get some butter and while i was gone they came and davis5 came also but he only [wanted?] to see me to say he was going that night to his mothers he told mrs Oconor he had a letter from Jeff6 and they were going to commence houskeeping saturday i bel[eiv?]e it was i have had a letter from Matty7 she seemes to be troubled with her old complaint her back she said she was taking iron and wine and thought she would [soon?] get over it that Jeffy was very well much better than when he was here she complained much of your not writing to her that they had only had one letter from you mabee you have written since she says sis8 goes all over the house if there any new arrival she tells them all about her grandma and Eddy9 she tells them grandma is very hansome eddy aint handsome but she likes him eversomuch) george is home yet but talks of going to camden to night he has gone to the hall to see the water commissioners sign the contract and then take it to camden and have it signed by the foundry man Mr lane10 talks of sending some one out there to inspect as he wants george11 here) Walter i have had a letter from Heyde12 the most awful one yet george asked me if i was going to send it to you i told him no that you had enoughf of his letters i read part of it to george but he would not hear any more he got excited and so did i for a short time but i took consideration & i think we must make arrangements for her to come to brooklyn there is nothing else to be done i got uneasy about not hearing from her and just wrote him a note to say how she was and if she got the letters and things books that you sent her he said she had) george has tried to get a house but we will have to wait awhile13

the snow is deep here i am feeling quite smart14


Notes:

1. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter March 3. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date and assigned the year 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). March 3 fell on Tuesday in 1868, which matches Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's date "tuesday noon." The year 1868 is consistent both with a recent visit to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman by Ellen M. O'Connor and daughter and with Louisa's detailed report on the family of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in St. Louis, Missouri. She relied on a February 24, 1868 letter from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman for that report. Because the letter is consistent with Louisa's usual practice of reporting to Walt on Jeff's family and on her recent visitors, the O'Connors, this letter dates to March 3, 1868. [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. Neither of these late February or early March letters from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is extant. Edwin Haviland Miller dated one of these missing letters March 1, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:360), and the letter received on Friday would probably date February 28, 1868. [back]

4. Jennie (or Jenny) was the daughter of William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor. Walt Whitman had recommended that Ellen and her daughter make a visit to his mother (see his February 24, 1868 letter to Nelly). 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]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. The remainder of this page and most of the next, until the subject changes to George Washington Whitman's work with the water commissioners, summarizes Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's February 24, 1868 letter to Louisa (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 48–50). Mattie was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In early 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], 1–16. [back]

8. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger 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. [back]

9. 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]

10. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her July 8, 1868 letter conveyed Jeff Whitman's confidence that George Whitman's connection to Moses Lane offered assurance of stable employment. For more information on Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff Whitman. [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. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt: "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them" (see her March 24, 1868 to Walt).  [back]

13. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward continued to reside at the Atlantic Street boarding house until September 1868, when they moved to a house constructed by George Washington Whitman at 1149 Atlantic Avenue (Brooklyn City Directory 1869). Walt Whitman assisted with the move by "hiring a stout young laboring man" (see his September 25, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle). [back]

14. This letter continues in the right margin of the page. [back]


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