Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [11 November 1868]

Date: November 11, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "11 Nov. 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.00553

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



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My dear Walter1

i2 got both of your letters one the last of last week and the other on monday3 i got one from Heyde yesterday tuesday) saying hannah was improving but had a bad thumb4 but no fever i think its pretty hard to tell how she is by his letters but i think she must be quite smart he said she had the girl that they had when i was there5 she was very good and thought very much of han and will doo very well for her i make no doubt)

well walter dear we are getting along quite smart matty6 is improving but far from well the doctor is doctoring her throat with great sucsess i think he has performed two moderate opperations on her throat) but O dear if you could hear her talk it would make me hoarse to talk a steady stream as she does when any one comes in to see her i dread to see any one come in i talk and talk to her but it does no manner of good she gets almost offended at me Perbasco7 was here the other evening and staid quite late and the way mats toung went it certainly would have made me have had the headach to have talked such a length of time steady but so it is she went out the other day i said dont go to any place but i knew in reason she would so she went to saywards8 and stayed till dark it was real chilly when she com i said martha if ever any one tryed to not get well i think you doo so that night she raised some blood not much but it frigh[tened?] her staid and talked till it got so late and then walked fast home that was the cause of [it?] when we doo every thing to have her comfortable it makes me real out of patience) Edd9 has been quite sick with billious attack but is so he does a little now but looks very bad) [of?]f10 george11 has got a draw of the two houses they talk of building he got the furniture insured12 to day for 400 dollars

good bie walter

i am pretty smart at present i try to get along as easy as i can matty is very weak she cant do much neve mind Walt[er?] it will be spring after a while13


Notes:

1. This letter dates to November 11, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman did not provide any form of a date for the letter, but the letter does refer to the day before as Tuesday. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter November 11, 1868, a Wednesday, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:70–71, n. 31; 2:366). The date November, 11, 1868, accords with a recent throat operation for Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in Brooklyn, but Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's statement about an architectural drawing that George Washington Whitman has received raises some doubt about the date.

After Mattie's arrival in Brooklyn to visit a physician in October, Walt reported to his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman that the physician hoped to have a better sense of Mattie's health within "ten or twelve days" after a surgery (see his October 25, 1868 letter to Jeff). Louisa's November 4?, 1868 letter to Walt must date after Walt's letter and before this letter both because Mattie's surgery remained in the future in that letter and because George went to Camden "last night" and is expected to stay there through November 21. Mattie's throat surgery was performed, presumably, shortly after Louisa's November 4 letter to Walt, and this letter dates November 11, the Wednesday after Mattie's surgery. However, the letter also states that George "has got a draw of the two houses they talk of building." If the statement implies that George has returned to Brooklyn, it contradicts his plan to be away at Camden for over two weeks. However, Louisa explained in her November 4, 1868 letter to Walt that George was inclined to return more often than every two weeks (that amount of time is required for return trip to be paid by the Brooklyn Water Board), because he is "carried away by somebody." According to Louisa's November 10, 1868 letter, George "is away." Even if George was not then in Brooklyn, his receipt of an architectural drawing could have alternate explanations: he may have received the drawing in Camden, which Louisa forwarded or received on his behalf, or he returned briefly to Brooklyn and was again away. The matter of George's architectural drawing can only be resolved by a surmise about what was probable. Regardless, this letter cannot date to the Wednesday after November 11 because Jeff Whitman's arrival in Brooklyn was not expected until the following week (see Louisa's November 18, 1868 letter to Walt). Despite the doubts raised by George's drawings, this letter must nonetheless date to the Wednesday between Louisa's November 4 and her November 18 letters to Walt. [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 November 6?, 1868 and November 8?, 1868 letters are not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], ed. Edwin Haviland Miller 2:361). [back]

4. 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. In late 1868 Hannah suffered a thumb infection that led Doctor Samuel W. Thayer to lance her wrist in November and to amputate her thumb the following month (see Charles L. Heyde's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, December 1868, Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225). [back]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman visited daughter Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde and Hannah's husband Charles L. Heyde in early September 1865, and she remained in Burlington, Vermont for over a month. See her letters to Walt from September 5, 1865 and September 11, 1865 [back]

6. 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]

7. Samuel R. Probasco (1833–1910) was an employee at the Brooklyn Water Works from 1856 to 1868, an assistant engineer in the Department of City Works, and a principal engineer on the Brooklyn Water Board from 1871 to 1875. According to a brief newspaper profile a decade later, he was the "handsomest man on the entire bridge force" ("Samuel R. Probasco," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 24, 1883, 5). For more on Probasco, also see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 19, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

8. The name "saywards" has not been identified.  [back]

9. 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]

10. It is not clear whether this word is "off," superimposed over a word that began with the letter "g" or a canceled word. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may have begun to write the name "george" but decided instead to continue the previous phrase that described Edward: he is "very bad) off." The reading then is a letter "o" in "off" over a partially canceled "g" in "george" but with the vertical mark after "bad" uncanceled. Or Louisa may have intended to cancel the entire word but neglected to cancel the second "f." [back]

11. 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]

12. The paragraph continues up the right margin of the page.  [back]

13. The postscript begins inverted at the top of the first page and continues in the left margin. [back]


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