Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 5 May [1868]

Date: May 5, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn," 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.00543

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4


May [th?]5 18681

My dear Walt

it seemed quite a treat to get your letter you are the only correspondente i2 have at present they seem to all dropped off i havent had a letter from Matty3 in a very long while except a few lines from Jeff4 from cincinnatta i haven[t?] had any word from him since his arrival home5 he promised he would write as soon as he arrived i told him if he was busy when he got back for matty to write because i wanted to hear but i have not got any if they have wrote to me i have not got it i think maybee they have and it has been taken and han6 too she promised in her letter she would never

be so long again without writing but i suppose they all have enoughf to doo without writing when one gets out of the way of writing its hard to get in it again matty was going to write to me so often she said before shee went away she would write every week i got the papers to day with the letter walter i like the chicago news7 very much i never saw one before i wish whenever you have one you would send it to me well walter dear we have leved to see another may day come and gone not as much moving as usual they say in the papers many has broke up houskeeping on the account of rents being so high8 i have been to look at several places george9 wants to get out of this place very much i went yesterday to look at one in carlton aven just out of fulton10 but it was no better nor any more room than we have here and 10 doll more rent a month i would rather live here than there and all the places i have been to see was something that would make it disagreable in some way or other) here i can doo just as i like but of course there is some disagreable things but they are all as clever to me as they can bee) george has lots of fun about their calling me lady whitman the family that has come in up stairs has five children but i think she is very clean woman and the children seems orderly but they have to run up and down so there is some noise i told george yesterday i wasent going any where to look at any more houses but was going to wait for something to turn up i am quite lame in one of my knees i dont know what makes it so it pains me considerable i suppose it must be the rheumatism11 settled there) sometimes i can hardly walk and then it will be better to day it feels quite bad on account perhaps of the appearance of a storm)

i suppose the impeachment is draging to a close george thinks Bingams speech is splendid12 just his sentiments exactly he said at dinner time) i havent read it yet their speeches is so long i hope this will not be so lengthy as the others poor old man i wonder how he feels it will be rather sad if he is convicted for all i suppose he hasent done right i see in the papers if he leaves he will be esscorted through the citys) walter you must have congratulations from all quarters poor old alcot13 he must be very old seems to me) you remember walt that sunday morning we couldent have him)14

good bie walter dea[r?]

mr Lane15 told george they had raised Jeffs salary to 6000 but i think it must be a mistake16


[LW?]17


Notes:

1. This letter dates to May 5, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter May 5, 1868, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited the same date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). The mark between Louisa's month and the number "5" is probably a superscript "th"; her placement of the superscript for ordinal designation varies widely, but it may be an inverted signature. [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. 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]

4. 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]

5. Jeff and Mattie Whitman had relocated from Brooklyn to St. Louis with their daughters. Jeff moved to St. Louis in May 1867 to assume the position of chief engineer of the St. Louis Water Works, and Mattie and daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa joined Jeff in St. Louis in January 1868. Louisa grew increasingly anxious about the absence of letters from Jeff and Mattie, a concern that Mattie acknowledged in her June 8, 1868 letter (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 54–56). [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa often spoke disparagingly of Charles in her letters to Walt Whitman. On March 24, 1868, she wrote, "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them." [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman probably refers to the Illustrated Chicago News, a periodical that began a brief run on April 24, 1868, "a very creditable weekly, with illustrations by Thomas Nast and other well known artists" (Frank W. Scott and Edmund Janes James, ed., Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814–1879 [Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910], 92). [back]

8. The first of May was the proverbial moving day in Brooklyn as year-long leases expired. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman paraphrased the assessment of a newspaper article: "increasing and exorbitant rents asked for houses and apartments this year have driven hundreds of families to the necessity of giving up housekeeping" ("High Rents and Housekeeping," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 5, 1868, 3). [back]

9. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted 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 partner Smith and later a mason named French. By 1868, the house business is balanced against George's work as an inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

10. Advertised as "Part of House No. 340 Carlton ave[nue], comprising 4 rooms on the second floor and 2 attic bedrooms" ("Boarding," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 1, 1868, 3). [back]

11. 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]

12. John A. Bingham (1815–1900), representative from Ohio who served as a manager during the impeachment proceedings of President Andrew Johnson in the Senate, presented the closing argument for removing the president from office. Though not considered a Radical Republican, Bingham argued for Johnson's removal on the grounds that the president was not a "judiciary to interpret the Constitution for himself" and so was required to abide by and enforce all laws, even those with which he disagreed ("Impeachment: Mr. Bingham's Closing Argument for the Prosecution," New York Times, May 5, 1868, 1; Richard L. Aynes, "Bingham, John Armor," American National Biography Online).  [back]

13. Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888) was an American educator and abolitionist and the father of Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), whose 1868 novel Little Women (loosely based on the Alcott home) secured the financial stability that her father had been unable to achieve through his own work as a teacher and transcendentalist. See Odell Shepard, ed., The Journals of Bronson Alcott (Boston: Little, Brown, 1938), 286–90. [back]

14. Walt Whitman had forwarded to Amos Bronson Alcott a copy of "Personalism" (Galaxy [May 1868], 540–547), and Walt had informed his mother of Alcott's appreciation for the essay in his April 28–May 4, 1868 letter. Ralph Waldo Emerson's enthusiastic response to Whitman after the publication of Leaves of Grass led Alcott and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) to visit the Whitman home in Brooklyn on November 9, 1856. Walt was not home. Alcott in his journal described Louisa Van Velsor Whitman as "a stately sensible matron believing in Walter absolutely and telling us how good he was and wise as a boy" (Odell Shepard, ed., The Journals of Bronson Alcott [Boston: Little, Brown, 1938], 289). [back]

15. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. The connection between Lane and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, who had served under Lane before accepting the position of Chief Engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, led to George Washington Whitman's employment as a pipe inspector in Brooklyn. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her July 8, 1868 letter reported Jeff Whitman's confidence that George's connection to Lane offered assurance of stable employment. George's position with the Brooklyn Water Works became more tenuous in 1869 after the reorganization of the Brooklyn Board of Water Commissioners in April: Lane resigned after the new board was seated (see Louisa's April 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). Lane later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer, and he again employed George to inspect pipe in Camden, New Jersey ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). [back]

16. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's disbelief is understandable since Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's salary far exceeded the earnings of Walt Whitman and his brother George Washington Whitman, but it is unlikely to be a mistake. The raise that Moses Lane reported would be substantial, an increase of about fifty percent over Jeff's initial salary of "three hundred thirty dollars per month" (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 119). [back]

17. This mark may not be a signature at all but instead a superscript "th" in the date. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.