Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 25 November [1868]

Date: November 25, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 25 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.00556

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



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[N?]ovem 251

My dear Walter

i2 received your letter to day wensday and the one on saturday also3 and was particularly glad to get the letter and the contents as i wa[s?] very short off funds and as georgey4 had let matty5 have considerable before Jeffy6 came he wasent very flush but the 2 dollars helped me out on saturday and saturday night george gave me some so you see providence [has?] provided) Jeffy is here came last friday matty is better i think she went to new york yesterday and is quite smart much better than she was a few weeks ago Jeff and she talks of coming to washington for a few days the first of next week Jeff will write to inform you what day they will come) i have had several letters from heyde7 saying hanna8 is gaining but her arm by his account seemes to be bad yet) have you wrote to Doctor their9 yet walter if you receive a letter from him i wish you would send it to me) hellen price10 was here yesterday to dinner she says they think so strang[e?] you havent wrote to them mrs price aint very well but so she s around mr Davis from providence11 has been to see them hellen said he said your next vacation he hoped you would spent at his hous george has not commenced his house yet but is talking about it)12 i am pretty smart matty wont bring either of the pets

good bie walter dear

i write in a hurry as usual13


Notes:

1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter November 25. The year 1868, added by Richard Maurice Bucke, is certain because it is consistent with multiple family matters: Martha Mitchell Whitman's convalescence from throat surgery, Thomas Jefferson Whitman's recent arrival from St. Louis, George Washington Whitman's presence in Brooklyn (he returned recently from Camden), and Walt Whitman's correspondence with Dr. Samuel Thayer in Burlington, Vermont, about his sister Hannah Heyde's recent thumb surgery (also see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Louisa wrote that she received a letter from Walt "to day wensday," his November 24, 1868 letter; November 25, the date in Louisa's hand, fell on a Wednesday in 1868. Therefore, November 25, 1868 is certain for the date of this 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 November 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Walt stated his confidence that his mother had received his Saturday, November 21, 1868 letter, but that letter is not extant (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361). Miller dated the missing letter November 20?, 1868. [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. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. Mattie had arrived in Brooklyn for a visit and medical evaluation and treatment in mid-October. For a report on Mattie's medical condition, see Walt Whitman's October 25, 1868 letter to Jeff Whitman. Mattie 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. Mattie's throat ailment led to her death in February 1873. 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.

The money that George Washington Whitman had advanced to Mattie ($50), which Jeff did not repay, became a matter of misunderstanding in the accounting of the loans that Jeff had extended to George (see Louisa's June 23, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]

6. 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)."

Walt Whitman inquired in his November 24, 1868 letter whether Jeff had arrived, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman confirmed his arrival in Brooklyn on Friday, November 20. [back]

7. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt: "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them" (see her March 24, 1868 to Walt).  [back]

8. Hannah Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde. Hannah in late 1868 is suffering from a thumb infection. She wrote: "I am so anxious about my hand I fear I shall lose my thumb I cant see it gets & feels or looks much better. It pained me last night more than usual." Heyde described Hannah's hand as follows: "Her hand is yet very distressing. Dr Thayer says that he cannot decide how it will terminate. The finger next her thumb is perfectly torpid and half closed and the others are not much better (Charles L. Heyde and Hannah Heyde's November 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Duke University, Trent Collection). The complications from the infection led Doctor Samuel W. Thayer to lance her wrist in November 1868 and to amputate her thumb the following month (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman; see Charles L. Heyde's December 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225–26). [back]

9. Samuel W. Thayer, a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School, performed surgeries in Burlington, Vermont during the 1860s. Walt Whitman inquired about Hannah's health in his December 8, 1868 letter to Thayer. For the Whitman family's bitterness toward Charles L. Heyde and the stress that Hannah's health crisis introduced between Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and George Washington Whitman, see Horace Traubel, Wednesday, January 9, 1889, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:499–500. [back]

10. During the 1860s, Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. The Price family began to save Walt Whitman's letters, and Helen's reminiscences of Whitman are included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). Helen printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

11. Walt Whitman had visited Thomas Davis (1806–1895) in Providence, Rhode Island during his October 1868 vacation. Davis, a jewelry manufacturer, served both in Rhode Island's state house of representatives and state senate. He also served one term as Rhode Island's representative in Congress. See the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. For Walt Whitman's visit to Davis during his October vacation, see his October 20, 1868 letter to Charles W. Eldridge. [back]

12. Walt Whitman had inquired, "Has George done any thing about the Portland av. house, yet?" (see his November 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). [back]

13. The salutation and the postscript are inverted in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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