Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [25 February 1868]

Date: February 25, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "25 Feb 68," 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.00517

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



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tuesday1

well Walt

we have lived to see something that never was i2 suppose known before in america the impeachment) i think it rather sad but notwithstanding exactly as it should be i suppose the excitement at washington is far greater than here the copperheads3 here is all for fight that a war will be the result some great politician down town wanted to bet yesterday that the impeachment would not take place so our georgey4 took him up told him he would bet him that andrew Johnso would be impeached in ten hours from that time5 the gentleman backed down after putting his hand in his pocket to take out his money george came home on sunday morning very unexpected as i dident look for him till next saturday he came something about the iron of the pipes he rejected as unfit) i got your letter walter yesterday monday with 5 dollars i was glad to have it walt but i doo think sometimes you send me more than you can afford and more than i ought to expect but mamma appreciates it if she dont make many [illegible] walt you wrote about your peice in an english magazine6 that you got 50 d in gold its first rate to handle gold in these days7 but i want to know what peice it was i thought of every one and could not make out what peice it was when you write again i wish you would tell me all about it but the gold is quite a new thing to be paid in these days) i think we will get the galaxy and see Ocono[rs?] peice8 if its as stupid as his others i dont think it will be worth 25 cts i dont see into his writing such peices as he writes i should think him9 capable of writing something more substancial a man that can converse as he can

well davis10 was here last sunday he gave a good account of the st louis folks he says jeff11 is much better there than here it agrees with him better and he thinks matty12 will be all right when they get settled he says they all felt the effects of the change of climate its affect is a kind of diarea he says he thinks matty will like it better there than here when they get to housekeeping it is in the neighborhood of general Shermans house that was presented to him)13 and a nice sckool near he davis looks very well indeed says he is very glad he went out there that he and Jeff has worked very hard but have got through the worst of it aint it been cold Walt i gess it has been stinging here but its quite moderate to day) i have heard nothing from aunt fanny i suppos she is living yet)14 the last speech of stephens15 that was read before the impeachment was good very indeed)

i am pretty well good bye walt dear16


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 25, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 25, 1868, which fell on Tuesday, the day in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver accepted Bucke's date, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver (see Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 192–194; Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson on February 24, 1868, the day preceding this letter, and Louisa refers approvingly to a speech by Thaddeus Stevens just before the vote. George Washington Whitman had offered to make a bet on whether Johnson would be impeached the previous day. This letter was written on the Tuesday that followed the impeachment vote, February 25, 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. Copperhead is a derisive term for a northern Democrat who opposed the Civil War.  [back]

4. 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]

5. George Washington Whitman would have won his bet. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's interest in impeachment was primarily with events of national significance, but she and George were also anxious that impeachment could affect Walt Whitman's employment as a clerk in the office of the attorney general (see her March 13, 20, or 27, 1868 letter to Walt). The United States House of Representatives brought articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson on February 24, 1868. The precipitating event was the removal from office of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814–1869) three days earlier ("Letter from Andrew Johnson to the Senate," in Papers of Andrew Johnson, ed. Paul H. Bergeron, et al. [Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996], 13:575). Johnson advocated leniency toward states in the former Confederacy, but Stanton, who had served under Abraham Lincoln, actively supported the more stringent policies of the Republican Congress (William B. Skelton, "Stanton, Edwin McMasters," American National Biography Online). [back]

6. "Whispers of Heavenly Death," a collection of five poems, was published in The Broadway, A London Magazine 10 (October 1868), 21–22. See "The Broadway, A London Magazine." [back]

7. Walt Whitman acknowledged receipt of a request for material from George Routledge & Sons, the New York office for the publisher of The Broadway, A London Magazine, in his December 30, 1867 letter. In the letter's endorsement, Whitman wrote, "I sent 'Whispers of Heavenly Death' which they printed & paid handsomely for in gold." Whitman acknowledged receipt of the payment in his February 22, 1868 letter to Routledge & Sons. [back]

8. See William D. O'Connor, "The Ballad of Sir Ball," Galaxy 5 (March 1868), 328–334. O'Connor had recommended Walt Whitman to William Conant C. Church and Francis P. Church, publishers of the Galaxy. For Whitman's work in the magazine, see "The Galaxy." [back]

9. 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]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891), one of the most successful Union generals of the Civil War, succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as the commanding general of the Union Army. In August 1865, the city of St. Louis presented Sherman a gift of $30,000 to buy a house in the city, and he purchased a house on Garrison Avenue near the corner of Franklin ("A Gift to General Sherman," New York Times, March 18, 1866, 1). [back]

14. Fanny Van Nostrand, called "Aunt Fanny" in the letters of Walt Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, is the mother of Ansel Van Nostrand, who married Walt Whitman's younger sister Mary. Mary Van Nostrand had written on February 16, 1868 that Ansel's mother "cannot live." Louisa reported Aunt Fanny's recent death in her March 24, 1868 letter to Walt. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver tentatively dated Mary Van Nostrand's letter to 1867, but Louisa's February 19, 1868 letter to Walt dates firmly to 1868, so Gohdes and Silver's provisional date for Mary's letter is incorrect. For the letter from Mary on Aunt Fanny's expected death, see Gohdes and Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 206–207. For Walt Whitman's remark on Aunt Fanny, see his September 29, 1863 letter to Louisa. [back]

15. On February 24, 1868, Representative Thaddeus M. Stevens (1792–1868) of Pennsylvania, a leader of the Radical Republicans, gave the final speech during the debate just before the House of Representatives passed the resolution to impeach Andrew Johnson ("Washington: Debate in the House on the Impeachment Resolution," New York Times, February 25, 1868, 1). [back]

16. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's postscript appears in the top margin of the first page and is inverted. [back]


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