Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 8 July [1868]

Date: July 8, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 8 July 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.00547

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



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July [th?] 8th1

My dear Walt

i2 have received your letter to day wensday i dident get it yesterday but it come all right to day with the 2 dollars)3 we have all lived through the 4th and the hot weather has been very exausting but the nights has been quite comfortable so we have all got along so far george4 hasent much to doo just now they have got down with the main as far as the entrance of the tunnel and the stones has to be got out before they can lay any more pipe so he goes down two or three times in the course of the day but not to work he is pretty well dont as yet have any erasyplis5 i hope he wont he dont favor himself any when there is work they have had considerable trouble with the first pipe that was laid before he commenced with their leaking mr Lane6 makes strait for george Jeff7 says george needent be uneasy about being discharged as long as lane is there)

we have got a jew family below at present they keep tobacco and segars he is a tailor works in new york they are from savannah they are very clever to me and clean talk duch all the time8 have got a nice little girl about hatties9 size the people up stairs is as clever as they can be but there is so many children that its a continual going up and down) but you know walt there must be something so we ll be thankfull its no worse) walt did you see harpers last sunday i dont know when i have had such a hearty laughf as i did to see Dr. chace giving the sick demecrat his medicine10 they seem to have a hard time to new york to day i suppos Dr chase will be trotted out i was in hopes there would not be any change in your place11 but we must take things as they come no more this time walter dear) my hand is [letter?] lame12 that the letter is wrote quite bad give my love to mr an mrs oconor and litle Jinne13

good by walter dear


Notes:

1. This letter dates to July 8, 1868. "July 8" is in Louisa Van Velsor's Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter 1868; Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–75], 2:366). The year is consistent with her reference to a Thomas Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly. In addition, July 8 fell on a Wednesday in 1868, the day of the week that Louisa wrote this letter.

Louisa used a superscript "th" with some regularity, but the placement is not consistent. She appears here to have written a superscript both before and after the number "8," but neither mark is clear.  [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. This letter is not known. [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. Erysipelas is contagious and has symptoms of fever accompanied by skin inflammation with a deep red color. It is also known by the name St. Anthony's fire. George Washington Whitman suffered a serious bout of erysipelas (see Walt Whitman's May 5, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor). [back]

6. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. George Washington Whitman's position as inspector for 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 Van Velsor Whitman'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. For Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see his January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff Whitman. For Lane's career, see "Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers (February 1882), 58.  [back]

7. 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]

8. Walt Whitman was proud of Dutch ancestry on his mother's side: "I may say I revel, even gloat, over my Dutch ancestry" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden ed. Jeanne Chapman and Robert MacIsaac [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992], 7:1). [back]

9. 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]

10. See Thomas Nast, "Sickly Democrat," Harper's Weekly, July 11, 1868, 439. In Nast's cartoon, Salmon P. Chase (1808–1873), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is depicted as a physician who offers a sickly Democrat a medicinal draught that holds a stereotyped black figure as the "medicine," a reference to Chase's support for African American suffrage.

Louisa could refer to Harper's Weekly of "last" Sunday (July 11, 1868) in this July 8 letter because the weekly was post-dated by one week. Walt Whitman in his July 10–13, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman reported receiving a letter, almost certainly this one, because he referred to the Copperhead Democratic ticket of Horatio Seymour and Montgomery Blair as "a bad dose of medicine" outside New York. [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phrase "your place" refers to Walt Whitman's employment in the office of the attorney general. Before Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) resigned the office on March 12, 1868 to serve as counsel during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, Walt had served under Stanbery and his interim replacement Orville Browning (1806–1881). William M. Evarts (1818–1901) succeeded Browning (see Walt's July 17, 1868 letter to Louisa). [back]

12. The words "no more" are pressed together. The word that precedes "lame" is most likely "letter," as in "letter lame," but it could also be "little." [back]

13. Jean, usually "Jenny" but here "Jinne," and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor had visited Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Brooklyn earlier in the year (see Louisa Whitman's March 3, 1868 letter). Walt Whitman the previous month had reported his regular visits to the O'Connors, "up to the O'Connors as usual last evening to tea" (see his June 6–8, 1868 letter).

For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and 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. Jenny was the O'Connors' daughter. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]


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