Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [4? November 1868]

Date: November 4?, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "11 Nov. '68," 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.00554

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



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wensday1

my dear Walter

i2 received your letter yesterday it is the first i believe that i have got on tuesday but i am very thankfull to get them wensday i should have written immediately and told you the letter and 2 dollr came safe but i was fixing georges3 things a little as he has gone to camden to the foundry4 he and mr Lane5 went last night in the 6 oclock train georgy dident want to go much i dont think it was on my account but georgy is very much carried away by somebody who it is is best known to himself6 he gets 5 dollar per day and his expences paid to the city once a month if he comes oftener he pays his own way he said he should come 2 weeks from next saturday i think sometimes its a pity such a good man as george would be) he is good to me but he seems to be so close with his moneey maybee he has uses for it that i little know he pays the rent and when i ask him for ten cts he gives it to me but he used to be so different well walt we all change some for better and some for worse

i was so glad to get your letter walt yesterday i have not got any hous yet matts7 got a letter from jeff8 monday and a check for 50 dollars and yesterday she got one from Worthen9 for 200 dollars for Jeffs servises in the board of health and there is one hundred more to come to Jeff george brought the check up for the 200 hundred and said there was another hundred to come i said to george when i give matt this check she will say when will she get the other sure enoughf i gave her the 200 doller check and she said she wished they would hurry up and pay the other hundred i said i told george you would want the other and you dident know you was going to have any10 so walt you see folks changes) but walt i think you and your old mother is about as reliable and good as you can find) mat is waiting to take the letter i have got a very bad cold and am pretty lame but i must bear it

good bie walter dear

take good care of yourself the next i will write about domestic affairs


Notes:

1. The date of this letter is uncertain, but clues point to a date of November 4, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date November 11, 1868, and Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's date (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). But the letter is likely to date to the Wednesday a week earlier, November 4, 1868. Another letter from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt, which described Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's recent throat surgery, is more likely to date November 11, 1868, and that letter fulfills this letter's concluding promise to "write about domestic affairs." Second, this letter does not mention Mattie's throat surgery or her recovery from that surgery. Presumably, then, the throat surgery was still in the future at the time of this letter. Louisa wrote bluntly in this letter that "i have not got any hous yet." In her next week's letter (November 11), she wrote that son George Washington Whitman "has got a draw of the two houses they talk of building," which implies that Louisa believed that one of the two houses that George planned to build will be for her and her son Edward Whitman.

This letter has no mention of Charley Mann or his illness, a topic that dominates Louisa's November 10, 1868 letter. Finally, this letter says that George went to Camden "last night" and is expected to stay there until "2 weeks from next Saturday" (November 21 if this letter dates to November 4). In the November 10 letter, she wrote that George "is away," but he has returned to Brooklyn by Louisa's November 18, 1868 letter. That George remained away in Camden for two full weeks is unlikely because Louisa wrote in this letter that he "is very much carried away by somebody," presumably Louisa Orr Haslam, his future wife. Because a number of contextual clues point to this letter's date as a Tuesday approximately a week before Louisa's November 11, 1868 letter to Walt—and though no one clue is decisive—this letter dates November to 4, 1868. [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. 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]

4. The pipe foundry located in Camden, New Jersey, was the R. D. Wood Foundry, where George Washington Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman had pipe made for the St. Louis Water Works. George accepted a position as inspector of pipes at the foundry in late 1869. [back]

5. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. For more information on Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman. [back]

6. The woman that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman identified as George Washington Whitman's "somebody" is almost certainly Louisa Orr Haslam, whom he would marry in spring 1871. See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 443. Louisa's term "somebody" is her euphemism for a companion with whom one has a romantic interest. She likewise described a companion of Joseph Phineas Davis, who is "here quite often to supper and stay all night," as a "mr somebody" (see her June 7, 1866 letter to Walt). [back]

7. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," had arrived in Brooklyn from St. Louis for medical treatment and a holiday visit in mid-October. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman joined his wife and children near the end of November, and they returned to St. Louis in mid-December. It is possible that Mattie departed from Brooklyn for a brief period in mid- or late-November 1868 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 11, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman).

Mattie and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In early 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. 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]

8. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's early November 1868 letter to Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman is not extant, but he remained in St. Louis. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890) 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]

9. William Ezra Worthen (1819–1897) was the sanitary engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Health of New York City from 1866 to 1869. [back]

10. The absence of punctuation for dialog is somewhat disorienting in this section of the letter. After Mattie said, according to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, that she wished "they would hurry up and pay the other hundred," Louisa informed Mattie that she had predicted to George Washington Whitman that Mattie would say that as soon as she received the $200 check. [back]


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