Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: June 25, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "—1868 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.00545

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



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June 251

dear Walt

i received your letter to day thursday with the money all right i thought it was a goner as i dident get it yesterday i couldent hardley give it up yesterday as you wrote in your fridays letter i would get your letter on wensday but it come to day very welcom[e?]

mr Burrous has not been to see me i was exspecting him every day after you wrote2 but he dident come) i have not heard from jeff3 nor matty4 since i wrote last to you)5 edd6 said the letter man asked him to day why his mother dident get any more letters i used to get so many matty used to write quite often and Jeffy once in a while but they have all seemed to fall off) but the good old standby if he should fail me i should have nothing to look for but i gess there is no danger is there walter dear as long as you have your old mamma i often think how loth many is to have children and what would become of me if i had none Janey mc clure7 that is nanc s brothers wife8 was here the other day she came to see if cornell9 had been to see me about the children she sends them the most saucy letters they think if they should doo any think she would not be any too good to kill her brother Edd thats the one in the new court house)10 i have come to the conclusion there is but one way to doo and that is to send them to the nursery to flatbush11 there is no instituti[on?] in the city that they would be taken as they are janey thinks that is the only place that she couldent get them out i cant begin to tell and i dont want too half the worse that wreched woman does i dont know walter how you feel about their being taken there but i know that i should feel much better than to have them sent out begging it would be no disgrace as there is many there that is of good parentage there they would be clothed and fed if they ever can be cleaned janey says the are so dirty that you would not know they were ever [clean?]12

good bie walter dear
your mother13

i14 am about the same as usual feel quite smart at [times?]

they are digging the cellar at georges lot he had it survayed yesterday15


Notes:

1. This letter dates to June 25, 1868. "June 25" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1868. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver also assigned the date June 25, 1868 (Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 196–198), and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). The year 1868 is consistent with Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman living in St. Louis, with the prospect of placing the children of Nancy McClure in an orphan asylum, and with the initial progress on a house that George Washington Whitman was building for his mother. This letter follows Louisa's May? 1868 letter to Walt Whitman, in which she asked him to write to James Cornwell about removing Nancy's children. [back]

2. According to Clara Barrus, John Burroughs (1837–1921) visited Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Brooklyn in late June (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:37, n. 10). However, Walt Whitman also wrote on July 10–13, 1868 that John Burroughs "may call upon you on his way home." If Walt Whitman informed his mother in a June letter that Burroughs might visit, that letter is not extant, but more than one visit by Burroughs, who traveled regularly, is also reasonable.

Burroughs met Walt Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864, and Whitman in 1864 commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs wrote several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Birds and Poets (1877), Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (1867), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and also became a friend to Walt Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, see "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)." [back]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. For Mattie's June 8, 1868 letter, probably the most recent letter that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had received, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 54–56. [back]

6. 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]

7. Jane McClure was the sister-in-law of Nancy McClure, the widow of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Andrew Jackson Whitman (d. 1863). Jane was married to Nancy's brother Edward McClure, a janitor in the Brooklyn courthouse. For the identification of McClure as Nancy's maiden name, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), n. 32. [back]

8. Nancy McClure Whitman was the wife of Walt Whitman's brother, Andrew Jackson Whitman. James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy" were Nancy and Andrew's sons, and Nancy was pregnant with Andrew, Jr., when her husband died in December 1863. For the identification of McClure as Nancy's maiden name (Louisa Whitman also writes "maguire" or "maquire") and Andrew's wife and children, see Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman, 12, n. 32; 13–14. [back]

9. The man "cornell" is James H. Cornwell, a friend of Andrew Jackson Whitman, who secured him a job in North Carolina in 1863 building fortifications. After being discharged from the Union Army in December of 1864, Cornwell returned to his position as a judge in the Brooklyn City Hall. He is mentioned in Whitman's "Scenes in a Police Justices' Court Room" Brooklyn Daily Times (September 9, 1857). For more on the relationship between Andrew and Cornwell, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 (1993), 142–148. [back]

10. On the efforts of the Edward and Janey McClure to remove Nancy McClure's children and place them in an institution, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May? 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

11. The Brooklyn Home for Destitute Children was inaugurated in 1862. It was located on Baltic Avenue near Flatbush. It accepted infants and male children up to the age of nine years old. For a description of the facility and its purpose at its founding, see "The Home for Destitute Children," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 12, 1862, 3. [back]

12. The word "clean" is near certain. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman struck through the two words that follow, and part of her cancelling mark obscures the word "clean." [back]

13. 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]

14. This part of postscript appears in the right margin of the page. [back]

15. This postscript appears at the top of the first page and is inverted.

The cellar was probably for the house in the lot on 1149 Atlantic Avenue. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman followed up on George Washington Whitman's difficulty in locating a surveyor and with his progress on the cellar in her July 1, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. George purchased the property outright from his partner—a man named Smith—and Louisa and son Edward moved there in late September (see her August 26, 1868 letter to Walt and Walt's September 25, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle).

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]


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