Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 1 July [1868]

Date: July 1, 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.00546

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



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July 11

My dear Walt

i2 got your letter yesterday and the money order and magazine and two papers all very good3 it will last me some time to read i like to have something on hand to read although i cant read as i once could i get sleepy and tired when i read of an evening but i like very much to have something to read)

i am pretty well now as well if not better than i was last summer i dont take any kind of medicine now only bath my limbs with cold water) i had a letter from martha4 monday it was longer coming than it ought to have been but i got it the 29th it was about 4 days coming they are pretty well sis has got well of the chills and matty is well all but her coughf hasent quite left her yet but they seem to be taking their comfort in having company and going round matt says jeff5 is very busy has hardly any time to himself6 she said she had wrote a long letter to hann7 telling her everything that would interest her so han gets letter from all quarter s

well walter dear as every body asks every body how are you going to spend the 4th8 one year ago this fourth i was here with the boxes and barrels all piled up around me9 it dont seem like a year since we moved here but time comes round and every year makes us one year older)

last sunday i went down stairs and something i scarcely ever doo i opened the front door and stood looking out a few minutes and i saw an old man with three children crossing over from hamilton ave and they looked kind of nice so i waited till they crossed over the man kept looking at me i thought he wanted to inquire the way somew[he?] but lo and behold it was Bartlett10 and his family i dident know him at first he said his wife said the other day how bad it was they had lost the run of mrs Whitman well i m in for it now he took down the number they were going up to prospect park11 he has as much as he can doo he says in survaying he made 50 doller saturday so if jeff ever comes back he could get pr[en?]ty of work12 george had to apply to several before he could get his lot survayed their is so much property bought and sold george has his cellar dug and the foundation began13 sometimes he gets quite fretty about his building thinks he wont have money enoughf to finish it but i will tell you all abo[ut?] it when you come home which will be before long14


Notes:

1. This letter dates to July 1, 1868. "July 1" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–75], 2:366). The year is consistent with the January 1868 departure of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman to St. Louis and with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's June 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman, which also discusses George Washington Whitman's effort to have a property surveyed. [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. Walt Whitman's June 29, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–75], 2:361). [back]

4. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's June 25, 1868 letter is not extant. Mattie (1836–1873) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" and Jessie Louisa "Sis." 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., "Introduction," Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

5. 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]

6. 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. Mattie had written in her March 20, 1868 letter to Louisa that Jeff "has so much to think about in his business that you mustnt think hard of him for not writing" (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 53). [back]

7. 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]

8. Whether Walt visited Brooklyn for July 4, 1868 is not known.  [back]

9. The previous year Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward "Edd" Whitman had moved out of the home on 840 Pacific Street shortly after Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's departure for St. Louis. Louisa and Edd had shared a home with the family of Jeff and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman for several years. Louisa reported the expected moving date as the "last of june" (see her June 20, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). She had moved to her current boarding location at 1194 Atlantic Street. [back]

10. Lewis L. Bartlett was a Brooklyn surveyor, with whom Jeff Whitman began his career in engineering. See Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., "Introduction," Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 13. [back]

11. Prospect Park covers over 500 acres in what is now the center of Brooklyn. The designer for the park was Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), and the chief architect was Frederick Law Olmsted (1822[?]–1893). Work began in 1859 and continued after the interruption of the Civil War. In 1868, when this letter was written, the realization of Vaux's design was nearly complete, and the park was already quite popular. It stretched to the city's eastern boundary. The park is notable for its Long Meadow, "a classic passage of pastoral scenery with gracefully modulated terrain of greensward, scattered groves of trees, and indefinite boundaries that create a sense of unlimited space" (Charles E. Beveridge, "Olmsted, Frederick Law," American National Biography Online). The 840 Pacific Street home that Louisa had shared with Jeff Whitman and his family was on Prospect Park. [back]

12. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's word, perhaps "pr[en?]ty" is probably an incomplete correction. The word "plenty" is likely the intended correction, but the letter "r" in the word originally intended, probably "pretty," is not stricken through.

George Washington Whitman a month earlier had reported Moses Lane's statement that Thomas Jefferson Whitman as chief engineer of the St. Louis Water Works was earning a salary of $6,000 per year (a figure that Louisa doubted—see her May 5, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). Early in his career Jeff had worked as a surveyor, but it was unlikely that Jeff, who had achieved such a prominent position, would have considered the career switch that his mother was contemplating. [back]

13. The cellar was for the house in the lot on 1149 Atlantic Avenue. George Washington Whitman 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]

14. The conclusion of the phrase is written in the upper right margin. Whether Walt Whitman made a short visit to Brooklyn in early July for the holiday is not known, but it is unlikely that he visited in early July because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her July 8, 1868 letter wrote that "we have all lived through the 4th." In any case, Walt did not take his usual extended leave of absence in 1868 until the autumn (see his September 7, 1868 letter to Louisa). [back]


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