Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [10 December 1868]

Date: December 10, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "10 Dec. 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.00559

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



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thursday evening1

I2 have just received this letter from mr heydd3 i feel real sad to think poor han4 has lost her thumb but if the bone was affected it was the only thing that could be done i wrote a letter to her last week a good letter and i gave mr heyde hint of his insult to you and not giving han the letter i wrote nothing ugly to him for fear it would be worse for han) i think very likely she will get better now if she dont fret about it it is good its on her left hand as she can sew without it

i got your letter Walter dear on tuesday with 2 dollars all safe Jeff5 has gone to boston but will be back to night They talk of going to st lou is next week i dont know how it will be matty6 is quite smart but cant doo much she sews but cant doo much else the children is well and awfull troublesome i cant writ it but i have got so far through the weather is very cold indeed you must come if you can walter dear as you spoke off Jeffy and all are going to board when they go back7 they cant come to washington this time


Notes:

1. This letter dates to December 10, 1868, which fell on Thursday in 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter December 10, 1868, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). The subjects of this letter are consistent with early December 1868, both in the matter of the recent amputation of Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's thumb and in the plans by Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha "Mattie" Whitman to depart Brooklyn soon for St. Louis without visiting Walt Whitman in Washington.

Louisa enclosed in this letter to Walt a December 1868 letter from Charles Heyde that described the surgical amputation of his wife Hannah Heyde's thumb (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225–226). Miller dated Heyde's letter to "[a]bout December 8" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, 2:72–73, n. 37). A second point of corroboration for the date of the present letter is Louisa's statement that Jeff and Mattie no longer plan to visit Walt in Washington. That statement affirms Louisa's observation, in her November 30–December 3, 1868 letter to Walt, that "i hardly think they will come to washington." Indeed, Jeff and Mattie departed for St. Louis shortly after this letter (see Louisa's December 15–19, 1868 letter to Walt). Since the letter must precede Louisa's December 15–19 letter and since Louisa enclosed Heyde's December 8 letter, it must date to the Thursday following Heyde's, December 10, 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. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt's sister in 1852, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. The letter that Louisa had received, Heyde's December 8?, 1868 letter, describes the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb by Samuel W. Thayer, a Vermont physician. See 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. Edwin Haviland Miller dated Heyde's letter to "[a]bout December 8" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], n. 37). [back]

4. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde. [back]

5. 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]

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. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead 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. [back]

7. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and family began boarding at "George Wolbrecht's 'Hotel Garni, Billiard Hall and Restaurant'" in early 1869. See Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's January 7, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 63, n. 2).  [back]


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