Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 14 [April 1869]

Date: April 14, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 14 April 1869," 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.00579

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



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wensday 141

My dear Walt

your letter has come to day all right i2 looked some for it yester[day?] but its just as well to day) i havent had any letter from jeff nor matty3 since i wrote last to you but as you have had one from Jeffy i suppose they are about the same)4

Jeffy was to send a draft to George the first of the month for two hundred dollars5 but it has not come to my kno[w?]legee without mr Lane has sent it on to George6 i expect him home to morrow or next day i hope he will come as the doors of the house is not got yet smith7 works but seemes to depend wholly on George his loan was to be got to morrow on his house i dont know whether he will wait till george comes or not George said before he went away smith wouldent have got the money if he george hadent applied) they say quite a good many buildings in brooklyn has had to stop on account of not getting money on them i think ours will be so we can move about the first of may the walls are all done and the stairs up George wanted smith to get some more help to finish up he has but one man so far but if george comes he will see to it i suppose)

well walter dear i went down to the post office and got the money8 and i have got lots of things for myself i thought now was my time well i have a new bonnet making not quite so fashionable as the eagle advertises the new bonnets one was a love of a bonnet consisting of two yards of ribbon and a rosebud) well i think the hats is awful)9 well when i went to the post office it was in the forenoon i was some lame but i thought i would ride down to sand st and call and see mrs Brown i dident think it was quite so far but i found it and she was very glad indeed to see me got a nice dinner and made me stay i beleive its the first meal i have eaten away from home since i come from Burlington10 if Jeff and matt knew i had been to see mrs Brown they would cross me off their books11 so you mustent let on so i have had a letter from Charley hey[de?] full as moderate as usuall rather more so he deplores his fate as usual says han12 is pretty well can use her two fore fingers some that she has very many drsses to make but wears nothing but ragged dresses i wish han had more exertion about hers[elf?] i sent the money george gave me for her to get her things made if she couldent make them herself) he says the doctor orders her to take salts every morning fore her blood as she is flushed in her face) he says she has commenced a letter to me maybee i shall get it some time i see by the paper exmayor Booth is to be the post master of Brooklyn)13 i make out a letter walter dear) mrs steers does remarkably well here she thinks she was fortunate to get this place)14 i am pretty well trying to favor myself for the coming 1 of may15 i congratulate mrs Oconer16 for not having to move so you can go there and have tea17


Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 14, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to April 1869, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). April 14 fell on Wednesday in 1869, and the calendar date 14 and the day of the week Wednesday are in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Neither Louisa's most recent letter to Walt Whitman nor the letter she received from Walt, his April 13?, 1869 letter, is extant. But her son George Washington Whitman's receipt of a $200 bank draft from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman is consistent with Jeff's expectation earlier that month that he would send the draft on about April 5, 1869. See Jeff's April 5, 1869 letter to Walt. The year 1869 is also consistent with new fashions in bonnets and the appointment of postmaster Samuel Booth, both of which are reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in spring 1869. [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. 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)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

4. See Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's April 5, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman (Berthold and Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt, 140–142). [back]

5. In exchange for a mortgage, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman had agreed to lend his brother George Washington Whitman $3,000, which he sent in installments of $200 per month (see Jeff's March 25, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, n. 1). In his April 5, 1869 letter to Walt, Jeff wrote that he would "try and send George some money to-day." [back]

6. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to May 1, 1869. The connection between Lane and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, who had served under Lane before accepting the position of Chief Engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, led to George Washington Whitman's employment as a pipe inspector in Brooklyn. Lane later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. George relied on Lane to deposit large checks from Jeff, which Lane then withdrew for George as cash (see Jeff's August 20, 1868 letter to George). [back]

7. George Washington Whitman started his speculative building business with a partner known only as 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). [back]

8. Walt Whitman often enclosed a few dollars (up to five) in each postal service letter to his mother, but he transmitted larger amounts by money order. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman reported using money orders from Walt to purchase a hair cloth lounge and to pay a debt of $10 to her grocer Amerman for a barrel of flour (see her March 13, 20, or 27?, 1868 and her April 7, 1868 letters to Walt). Another money order from Walt paid for the purchase of coal and the repair of a heating stove (see her November 2 or 3?, 1868 letter to Walt). [back]

9. From March 25 to April 7, three "Spring Openings" reviews in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described new fashions in bonnets and hats. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's description, however, is not from an advertisement but from a satirical writer under the pseudonym Corry O'Lanus: the "sweetest love of a bonnet we saw consisted of two yards of ribbon attached to a rose bud" ("Corry O'Lanus' Epistle," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 27, 1869, 2). The new spring fashion in hats, which drew Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's ire, were smaller sizes with low crowns and narrow rims: feathers were out, lace and flowers and ribbons were in, and the height of fashion for trimmings was striped or "Roman" ribbon in "very pretty colors and tasteful contrasts" ("The Fashions," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 27, 1869, 2). [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's most recent visit to her daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde and husband Charles L. Heyde in Burlington, Vermont was from early September to mid-October 1865. [back]

11. When Louisa Van Velsor Whitman lived at Portland Avenue, the house she shared with Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman and family, a section of the house was rented to the family of John Brown, a tailor, in March 1860. The relationship between the Browns and the Whitmans was often strained, especially in regard to the noise made by Jeff and Mattie's daughter Manahatta, but the Browns remained in the Portland Avenue house for five years. For Jeff's frustration with the Brown family, see his April 16, 1860 and March 3, 1863 letters to Walt Whitman. Though Louisa too expressed annoyance with the Browns, she seems to have achieved more cordial relations with the family after the departure of Jeff, Mattie, and family to St. Louis in 1868.  [back]

12. 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. 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. For Louisa's report on the initial surgery from a non-extant letter by Charles Heyde, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

13. Samuel Booth (1818–1894) was appointed to the office of postmaster by President Ulysses S. Grant ("The Post Office," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1869, 2). Booth was Brooklyn's former mayor, elected to that office in 1865 ("Obituary," New York Times, October 20, 1894, 4). [back]

14. Margret Steers, her husband Thomas Steers (1826–1869), and their four children Thomas (b. 1853), Caroline (b. 1857), Louisa (b. 1862), and Margret (b. 1865) moved into the Atlantic Avenue building in November 1868. Thomas Steers operated a bakery, and his wife, who would become a close friend of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, continued the business when he died in January 1869. After Thomas Steers' sudden death, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman replied to an early 1869 letter from Louisa (not extant) with concern that "Mr. Steers' death had quite an effect on you." George Washington Whitman sold a property to Margaret Steers in January 1871, and the property had title trouble with regard to unpaid assessments (see Mattie Whitman's February? 1869 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 67; Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 4, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman; "Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1869, 3; United States Census, 1870. New York, Brooklyn Ward 7, Kings, District 1; and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 3–24?, 1871 letter to Walt). [back]

15. May 1, when leases expired, was moving day in Brooklyn. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman moved from 1149 Atlantic Avenue to 71 Portland Avenue "opposite the Arsenal" (see her April 25–27?, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). George Whitman's progress on the house to which she would move is described above.  [back]

16. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

17. The last phrase is written vertically in the right-hand margin of the second page. [back]


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