Life & Letters

Correspondence

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Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 31 March [1869]

Date: March 31, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "N.B. Heavenly Death pubd in "Broadway" 1869 London – Oct. 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.00560

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



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31 march1

Well Walt

here comes another letter Edd2 says he s tired carrying letters yesterday i3 wrote one to mary4 and one to hanna5 i promised mary if i heard any thing from hanna i would write to her she wanted very much to see Heydes letters but i told her they would only excite her and make her feel bad that i dident put any faith in what he wrote they are very insulting but i take them from whence they came i wish han was something like young chappells wife6 up stairs here he is awfull at times wishes to god he could find her dead when he come home she dont know i suppose i hear him swear at her the other night he made a great noise i thought he had knocked her down but i gess he dident the next day she was singing and lively as usual she says he has an awful temper but it goes in one ear and out the other her mother lives in brooklyn has her second husband she was in my room the other day she said janey deserved a better lot that her father was a minester i think they are from the south but janey gives as much back as she gets she goes to her mother and stays a week or two edd says he told him he liked to be alone)

well walter i have the whis[p?]er[s?] of heavenly death7 it lays here on the table by my side i have read it over many times and have had one person ask me to let her take it hom i said no i would rather not let it go out of my hands and am very glad i did so as you wish me to reserve it i felt as if i should preserve it for i liked it it was so solemn) i got your letter walter this day with 2 dol i am feeling better to day my head dont pain me and have got rid of the dissiness i am glad to have george8 home on some accounts i have more work to doo but probably its best) i asked him about the lot in putman a9 he said his price was 1000 doll but if you would like to buy it you could have it for 700 that is what it cost him he was up there last sunday he said there was three houses on that side about 15 feet from the old shop three story frame houses very good all different as if they were built by the ones that would ocupy them and 6 acrost the street) george says with a high fence the side of the shop he dont think it would be so very bad i only wish we had a house on it it would be a home any how its astonishing how houses rents there was a place in clermont10 george went to see about but it was taken the uper part 30 dol per month


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 31, 1869. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "31 march," and Richard Maurice assigned the year 1869. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver cited Bucke's date (Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 200–201), and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:367). The year is consistent, as Bucke indicated, with the publication of Walt Whitman's "Whispers of Heavenly Death." Bucke's scholarly abbreviation "N.B." for nota bene (see page image 1) may be to signal that Walt Whitman forwarded copies of the poem to his mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman almost immediately upon receipt of the thirty copies that he had requested from the publisher (see Walt's March 22, 1868 draft letter to the New York office of Edmund Routledge). Routledge is the London-based publisher that had issued the set of poems during the previous October. This letter corresponds with Walt's request and with Louisa's receipt of printed copies of "Whispers of Heavenly Death" from publisher Routledge. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

5. 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 (1822–1892), a landscape painter. This letter is but one of many in which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman remarks on Charles Heyde's offensive letters and his willingness to deny Hannah access to letters from her family. Late in 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 to Louisa 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]

6. This letter has the most extended description of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's upstairs neighbor "chappells wife," whose first name have been Janey or Jenne. This letter gives her name as "janey," but she is probably the same person that Louisa named "jenne chappell" in her March 6, 1868 letter, where she is described as the wife of "the doctor." This upstairs neighbor may also be the same person who visited Louisa at the same time as Charlie Mann, a young child and downstairs neighbor who died from the croup in late 1868 (see Louisa's November 10, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

7. See "Whispers of Heavenly Death" (The Broadway, A London Magazine 10 [October 1868], 21–22). The set of five poems was republished in Passage to India (1871). [back]

8. 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]

9. The "a" is an abbreviated form of avenue. George Washington Whitman purchased the lot on Putnam Avenue as one of his earliest investment properties after his return from the Civil War, but he decided against building a house on the lot shortly after the purchase (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 2, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). Putnam Avenue runs east-west from Broadway to Grand Street, through the present-day Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. [back]

10. Clermont Avenue runs north-south between Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, which then bordered the U.S. Navy Yard.  [back]


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