Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 24 March [1868]

Date: March 24, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "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.00541

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



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tuesday 24 march1

My dear walter

its quite a spell since i2 have written at any rate it seemes so to me i should have wrote and said i had received the letter of friday but it was such a dreadful storm saturday then i thought i would wait till to day i have got the one you sent on friday or i got it on friday and one to day both with 5 dollars and the book for mary3 came friday and the galaxy to day with the ballad of sir ball4 i had forgotton all about the peice till i see it and then i had to think where i had heard of it and then it came to my mind what piece it was it is signed w i hope nobody will think you wrote it walt)

Mary has gone home to day she has had a very satisfactory visit but she thought she must go to day she came last monday a week ago yesterday) she thinks so much of her daughter minnie she almost worships her nothing but what they will indulge her in)5 when martha6 was there she seemed to think they were either too close or stingy to or hadent the means but the means they have whether they have the heart or not to use the means they talk of selling their place and buying one up town further and one more stilish after aunt fanny7 was buried they had a division of money that she had laid up it was equally divided between Ansel and Noah and george marys son george8 mary said she dident know how much they had but i shouldent wonder if she did as her son george came down with her at any rate i gess they will keep what they have got) poor old woman she s been saving up i suppose all her life for who she knows not) i got a letter from matty9 yesterday i havent had one in a long while they have got nicely fixed matty says and have laid out 1000 dollars that jeffy10 is glad they came and they get along nicely matti said she was going to send a box of things to me she said before she went away she would make me some things when she got settled and amongst the rest she said she would send eddy a present too Edd11 said he thought matt was the best of all of them) matty says they was so glad to get your letter that i must tell you you must write often and she will write to you but Jeffy is so busy davis12 is with them) i sent a small paper of lozenges to the children by davis tied up with a thread matt said hattie13 kised the string and put it away cause gramma had sent it

good bie walter dear14

no news from hanna yet15

i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them16


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 24, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's date, "March 24" and "Tuesday," are consistent with 1868, the year Richard Maurice Bucke assigned to the letter. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). March 24, 1868 is consistent both with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's recent receipt of the Galaxy issue that featured William D. O'Connor's "Ballad of Sir Ball" and with the distribution of Fanny Van Nostrand's estate after her death. [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 letters from Walt Whitman to his mother, the one received on March 20, 1868 (Friday), or the one received on March 24, 1868, is extant. Edwin Haviland Miller dated the two missing Whitman letters March 19 and March 23, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:360).

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]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had written the previous month, "i think we will get the galaxy and see Oconors peice" (see her February 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). See William D. O'Connor, "The Ballad of Sir Ball," The Galaxy 5 (March 1868), 328–333. O'Connor had recommended Whitman to William C. Church and Francis P. Church, publishers of the Galaxy. For Whitman's work in the magazine, see "The Galaxy." [back]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's sense that Mary Van Nostrand's daughter Mary Isadore "Minnie" was indulged was reaffirmed the following year. Mary requested a week-long visit for shopping in preparation for Minnie's approaching marriage (see Louisa's September 15–26, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

6. 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]

7. 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 this letter. 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. Louisa had written in her February 25, 1868 letter that "i have heard nothing from aunt fanny i suppos she is living yet," which is consistent with a report on a genealogy site that Fanny Van Nostrand died on March 9, 1868, two weeks before this letter (see http://www.longislandsurnames.com). For Walt Whitman's remark on Aunt Fanny, see his September 29, 1863 letter to Louisa. [back]

8. Fanny Van Nostrand's money was divided among Ansel Van Nostrand, Ansel and Mary Van Nostrand's son George, and Ansel's brother Noah Van Nostrand. [back]

9. Much of the remainder of this letter to Walt Whitman, through granddaughter Manahatta's response to a package, summarizes Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's March 20, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 51–53). [back]

10. 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]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. 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]

14. The salutation and the two postscripts circle the outer margin of the second page. [back]

15. Earlier in the month Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had written "a pressing letter to hannah urging her to come and make us a visit" (see Louisa's March 6, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa's youngest daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

16. Charles L. Heyde "charley hay" was the husband of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's daughter Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Louisa no doubt anticipated that requesting a visit from Hannah would upset Heyde, who was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa in her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman wrote that Heyde "is a very bad man very very."

Foolscap is a large piece of paper that is used by artists for sketches. As writing paper, it may be divided into smaller pieces.  [back]


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