Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 15 March [1869]

Date: March 15, 1869

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.00576

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



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My dear Walt1

dont be frightened at getting this unseasonable letter there is nothing more than usual the matter i am quite lame but otherwise as well as usual i hope this will find you over your trouble with the distress in your head)2 the cause of my writing george has got disappointed and dont hardly know what to doo in the money matters the masons he contracted to doo the work lumped out the plaistering and they have got it all done but the last coat and smith3 says they wont finish it till they have the payment which is six hundred dollars he wants to know if you could without trouble let him have it he says he could pay you back in may certainly he has tried every way that could be thought of smith had a man to day to look at his house he would sell it 500 doll less than his price if he could raise some money on it but the man diden[t?] buy it) georg says if it would be

marc[h?] 15

a trouble for you to get it he will doo the best he can but if you could send him a draft for five or six hundred it would accomadate him very much indeed he wants you to telegraph to him when you get this letter as he expects he will have to go to the foundry4 this week he says if it wasent for our moving and his letting out the lower part he woulent care if it did stop he feels shure of getting money by the first of may he has tried to transfer the mortgage on this house offered the back interest and more besides but it all failed i dont suppose there hardly ever was such difficuly the real estate agent say it will be very different in a little while) george says this building without money is a bad business i suppose walter dea you got my letter of last week) there is 800 dollars to come from jeff5 yet but he cant pay but 200 dollar a month)6 the houses is both insured) if you cant send it walt without difficulty george wont think hard i told him if you could i knew you would)

no mor but rem[em?] you mother7
LW8


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 15, 1869. The date "March 15" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand on the second page, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1869. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). In March 1869 George Washington Whitman was struggling to keep his housebuilding business afloat financially, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in this letter asks Walt Whitman for a loan of "five or six hundred" on George's behalf, the "cause of her writing." This direct request had been prepared two weeks earlier when Louisa wrote on the reluctance of agents to lend money to George: they instead sought the safety of government bonds (see her March 4, 1869 letter to Walt). Walt sent a bank draft immediately after receiving this letter, and Louisa acknowledged George's receipt of the draft (see her March 17, 1869 letter to Walt). Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman confirmed Walt's loan to George a week later (see Jeff's March 25, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]

2. In his February 2–8, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Walt Whitman wrote of "severe cold in my head" and "bad spells, dizziness in the head." Walt's suffering continued for some time. In her February 18, 1869 letter, Louisa wrote, "i was sorry Walter you have them bad spells with your head it must be very bad indeed." She also recommended a "kind of linement [sic] called cloroform [sic]." [back]

3. George Washington Whitman started a building business with a partner named Smith in 1865, and they were joined by a mason named French the following year. See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 27–29. [back]

4. According to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 6, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman, George Washington Whitman was returning to the R. D. Wood Foundry in Camden, New Jersey, to inspect the "new main" for Moses Lane, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works. George's brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman also had pipe made for the St. Louis Water Works in Camden. George accepted a position as inspector of pipes at the foundry in late 1869. [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. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman had agreed to lend his brother George Washington Whitman $2,000 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 4, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). If there are "800 dollars to come," as Louisa wrote above, George had already received six $200 installments from Jeff—with four more to come. However, the set of installments may have differed. Louisa attempted to provide a complete accounting in her June 23, 1869 letter to Walt: two installments from Jeff in the amount of $500 each were followed by a series of installments of $200, which George eventually expected would total $3,000 for a mortgage on top of the initial $1,000 in two installments. It is unclear whether Jeff agreed to provide $4,000 in full—$3,000 in $200 installments on top of the initial $1,000—because he only loaned George $3,400, which was $600 less than George expected. [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman shortened a series of words in her conventional closing: "mor[e]," "remem[ber]," and "you[r]." [back]

8. 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]


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