Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [15 July 1868]

Date: July 15, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "15 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.00548

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



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wensday ten oclock1

Well Walter dear

i write again to let you know we are all in the land of the living had a pretty hard squeese to worry through but we have got along so far all pretty well considering this awful weather we have had) these rooms is quite cool if there is any air at all but monday night we had to keep shut up all the front part of the house on sunday there was one of the car horses died and he laid just acrost the street and he laid there till tuesday and the whole neighborhood was distressed with the smell the horses dropt from the cars in several other routs well walt i got the letter tuesday this week it dont make any very material difference only i get figgety for fear its stolen there dont seem to be quite so much complain[t?] of loosing letters as there was at one time) i hope you will keep well walter you are very carefull i know i think its so nessary to be i wish george was half as carefull they havent done much on the main till to day they have been raising the stone from where the old tunnel was filled up so they havent laid much pipe till to day so it was well for george2 as it wouldent take much to get him to feel the effects of the heat

georges house3 is raised was raised last saturday three story and cellar with stone under smith is in a hurry to get it done as he is going to oversee frenches4 buildings) i seldom hear from the st lou is folks they are very slow to write i wrote a letter to matty5 telling her i just wrote to let her know mamma lived in brooklyn yet i think matti might write oftener as for han6 i dont know as i shall ever hear from her it seems so strange if they was old and lame like me i shouldent think so strange well i suppose they all have enoughf to doo) o walter the nomanation aint it great i wish you could see the eagle it is worse than ever all the respectable radicals is in favor of seymore7 the eagle says they are nearly all copperheads around here8 but they are kinly put aback if chase9 had only been the one they would have carried everything before them

good bie walter dear take care of yourself and i will try to doo the same i am pretty well
L Whitman10


Notes:

1. This letter dates to July 15, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter only "wensday," and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date July 15, 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–75], 2:361). July 15, 1868, was a Wednesday, and the date assigned by Bucke is correct because it corresponds with stories about politics in the newspaper and because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman replied directly to a query in Walt Whitman's most recent letter. The letter refers to the Democratic presidential candidate Horatio Seymour, and Louisa drew from an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which appeared on July 7. She responded to Walt Whitman's request for her (and George Washington Whitman's) opinion of the Democratic ticket in Walt's July 10–13, 1868 letter. [back]

2. 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]

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

4. George Washington Whitman started a business building houses on speculation with a man named Smith in 1865, and they were joined by a mason named French the following year. Walt Whitman described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to Burroughs). See also Jerome F. Loving, "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 3–35. [back]

5. 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. Mattie's June 8, 1868 letter may be the most recent one that Louisa has received (see Waldron, 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 Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

7. Horatio Seymour (1810–1886), former governor of New York, was the Democratic Party nominee and opponent of Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election of 1868. "Seymour among the People" reported enthusiastic crowds for the candidate along the train route for his return to Utica, New York (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 14, 1868, 2). The term "Radical" was the Democratic-leaning Eagle's party designation for Republican candidates and voters, and it reserved terms like "respectable" and "respectful" for moderate Republicans who advocated generous terms for the southern states and so would consider voting for Seymour. For more on Seymour, see Joel H. Silbey, "Seymour, Horatio," American National Biography Online[back]

8. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's support for Ulysses S. Grant and the Republican presidential ticket was genuine. Walt Whitman had been employed in the office of the attorney general for a Republican president, and his brother George Washington Whitman served in the Union Army. Louisa read against the grain of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Louisa replied to Walt's query in his July 10–13, 1868 letter, "How do you all like the nomination of Seymour and Blair?" Despite her annoyance with the daily paper's political orientation, she continued to subscribe to it out of habit and familiarity (see her February 17, 1868 letter to Walt).

"Copperhead" is a derisive term for an antiwar Democrat. [back]

9. Salmon P. Chase (1808–1873) was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He sought the 1868 presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, but his support for African American suffrage undermined his candidacy. Horatio Seymour was selected as the party's nominee. Also see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's response to a Thomas Nast cartoon on Chase's politics in her July 8, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

10. 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]


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