Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [26 August 1868]

Date: August 26, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 19 Aug 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.00549

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



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wensday evening1

My dear Walt

i2 recieved your letter yesterday as usual3 it was all right and am glad to hear you are feeling pretty well and every thing goes on pretty well with you you are so attached to washington i dont beleive you ever would be contented any where else i dont wonder at it for i think you have more true friends there than any other place) i mean those not related to you of course) i suppose it makes you feel awkard to go to mr Oconors their not being friendly and you being friendly to both but when they move it will be different4 its very disagreabl[e?] to live in one house and not be on speaking terms i should think the oconors was the last people to fall out with) well Walt here we are yet in the same old place but i doo want to get out of it very much indeed there is so many children and not the best i ever see but a continual traveling up and down from morning till night

one good thing their dog is dead he fill[d?] the house with fleas so maybe well get clear of them now) george5 says we must stay here till the 1 of october and then he see what arrangements he can make with smith to take the house all himself and then we shall move there this winter6 i shall be glad enoughf maybee they will settle it up before i told george i wanted to move before you came home but walter dear if it suits you better to come before that time you must come but i thought i should be so lonesome when i got away from this rabble that i should want you to come then and stay your full month) george has been to florence to the foundry to get some big pipe they fell short and he dont have much to doo now he talks of going up on the island for a day or two) florence is the foundry where jeff7 has his pipe made8 when george got there Jeffs inspector was out gunning george left word for him to come to the hotel it was some pipe that jeff had they wanted for this main so when the young man came they told him mr whitman wanted to see he was quite alarmed he thought of course it was jeff george thought he was very glad as he dident care for jeff to find him out gunning) george has got a draft from jeff for 510 doll and got the money without any trouble)9 now walter dear dont wait till we move if it suits you i make a good deal of rec[toneng?]10 of your coming

i feel pretty well at present11


Notes:

1. This letter dates to August 26, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter August 19, 1868. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver agreed with Bucke's date, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver to date this letter (see Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 198–199; Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–75], 2:366). The surmised date based on corresponding topics with Walt Whitman's August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is reasonable but incorrect: the letter must follow George Washington Whitman's receipt of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's August 20, 1868 letter (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 128–129). The date accepted by Gohdes and Silver and Miller is consistent with subjects in two letters from Walt Whitman, one before August 19 and one after. Louisa discussed the house that George Washington Whitman was building at 1149 Atlantic Avenue, conceivably in response to a query in Walt's August 13–17, 1868 letter to Louisa. Louisa also reacted to a "falling out" between the O'Connors and Ursula North Burroughs, which Walt also discussed in that letter. Finally, she noted that Walt was "so attached to washington," an observation to which Walt seems to have responded in his August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa. Despite the seeming corroboration of these three topics, however, discussion of them presumably continued through multiple letters. The letter to dates August 26, 1868, a week later, after George has received a $510 draft from Jeff Whitman. Since Jeff referred to an "enclosed draft" in the same amount in his letter to George, Louisa's statement that George has received Jeff's draft must follow Jeff's letter. [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. See Walt Whitman's August 13–17, 1868 letter.  [back]

4. In his July 10–13, 1868 letter, Walt Whitman reported a "serious falling out" between Ursula North Burroughs and the O'Connors (William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly"). In his August 13–17, 1868 letter, he stated that the O'Connors "have got another house, & move in about a month." [back]

5. 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]

6. The house that George Washington Whitman co-owned with his partner Smith was at 1149 Atlantic Avenue. 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). George purchased the property outright from Smith, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman 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]

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. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman had pipe for the St. Louis Water Works made at the R. D. Wood Foundry, which was located in Florence, New Jersey. See Jeff's September 6, 1868 letter to George. [back]

9. See Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's August 20, 1868 letter to George Washington Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 128–129). For George's financial struggles in the house-building business during the immediate postwar years, during which he relied on loans both from Walt and Jeff, see Robert Roper, Now the Drum of War (New York: Walker and Company, 2008), 352–361. [back]

10. The intended word is probably "reckoning," but the letter-by-letter spelling is closer to "rectoneng." In context, the intended word is most likely "reckoning," but given Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phonetic spelling of unfamiliar words and casual inconsistency in handwriting habits, some doubt must remain. [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's postscript appears upside down on the top of the first page. [back]


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