Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [25–27?] April 1869

Date: April 25–27?, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "(about 20)," 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.00580

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4


April 18691

My dear Walt

i got you to day with the enveloves and money all safe and sound walt what made you think that was marys george2 i knew when i first saw it that it wasent him he is not on the road he lives to meridan near springfield3 this young man that was killed was buried at Jamaca there has been a full account of it in the eag[le?] the Dr pray and his mother that was killed the mother was old judge dikemans daughter and the rushmores wife is sister to mrs pray likewise dikemans daughter she was not on the car it was the northport train Charlick the manager or owawer4 it was awful to read)5 well walt last saturday i had one of heyds awful letters if possible the worst one yet over two sheets of paper dont you think i had a good time reading it) well i got his in the forenoon and i got one from han6 in the aftern7 if i hadent got hers i should have felt very bad i will sent the letter to you the next time i write i want george8 to read it before i send it i wont tell any thing she writes i dont mean to send mr Heydes although he mentions your name not the most polite you have ever had it mentioned i wrote han a letter right away that we should expect her as soon as we got a little settled i hope he wont keep it as he did yours) i had a letter from matt9 they have got a house and the two girls to work matt says if she was only rid of her coughf she should be real happy she said she would have sent me some change but they were dead broke i dont think its much use to get a high salary)10

walt this is great writin but i have had to work so hard that my hands is so trembly and stiff i cant write maybee you can make it out the german woman that i expected to have to help me about moving has took it on her head to get married about the 1 of may so i had to doo more than i could hardly get along with george is to camden but will come home wensday or thursday nigh[t?] the house aint done but we shall have to move on saturday your next letter you must direct portland ave) i beleive the number is 71 opposi[te?] the Arsenal11 at any rate our old letter man has that route i think mrs steers12 is very clever does all she can to accomadate but the people is coming in thursday evening i have given up the parlor and all i can but the only comfort i have that i shant have to move again very soon any how but strange things happen in these days dont they Walt so its best not to make any calcalation13

good bie walter my love as usual to the Oconors14
LW15

this compliment george cut out of the philadelpha bulletin16


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between Sunday, April 25, 1869 and Tuesday, April 27, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter "about 20," and Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's probable date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). Bucke's and Miller's date, however, is too early: the letter refers to a train accident that occurred on April 23, 1869, which was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on April 24, 1869. In addition, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman has received a letter from Walt Whitman (not extant) in which he expressed concerned that his nephew George Van Nostrand was among the accident victims. If Walt received news of the accident on the same day that it was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the letter to his mother arrived the next day, the earliest possible date for Louisa's letter is April 25, 1869. The latest possible date is before the return of George Washington Whitman to Brooklyn from Camden on Wednesday or Thursday of that week. Louisa also expected to move to a new residence on Portland Avenue the following Saturday, May 1, the typical moving day in Brooklyn. Because Walt had to write Louisa after he became aware of the railroad accident, because Louisa wrote that she "shall have to move on saturday," and because one assumes that George Washington Whitman would return before the move, the letter must date to between Sunday, April 25, 1869 and Tuesday, April 27, 1869. [back]

2. Walt Whitman's concern was that "George Van Nostrand," one of the dead in a Long Island railroad accident, was his nephew. George was the son of Walt Whitman's sister Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) and Ansel Van Nostrand (1821–1899), who lived at Greenport, Long Island. 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), 206. [back]

3. Walt Whitman's nephew George Van Nostrand's exact place of residence is unclear, but Springfield, New Jersey, from which Meridan Road is to the north, is approximately 20 miles east of New York City. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman assumed that Mary Van Nostrand's son George was far from the accident at Willow Point Station on the Long Island Railroad, some 10 miles east of Brooklyn. But Walt Whitman's fears were not baseless. Mary's son George could well have traveled via the Long Island Railroad to visit his parents in Greenport, Long Island.

The George Van Nostrand killed in the accident was buried at Jamaica, in present-day Queens, and was not Walt's nephew. [back]

4. The unusual word "owawer" may be a combination of "owner" to describe Oliver Charlick (see below) and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's common interjection "o walter."  [back]

5. The 10:30 Northport train from Hunter's Point was five minutes late to the Jamaica station. When proceeding to Northport, the final car jumped the track at the Willow Station, which resulted in multiple deaths. The Long Island Railroad President and Manager was Oliver Charlick. Other deaths listed by Louisa Van Velsor Whitman are William C. Rushmore, President of the Atlantic National Bank of Brooklyn, his nephew Charles M. Pray, a physician, and Matilda Pray (mother of Charles M. Pray and daughter of Judge John Dikeman). See "The L. I. Railroad Slaughter. Full Particulars of the Calamity," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 24, 1869, 2. The man named "old judge dikeman" is John Dikeman (1795–1879), County Judge of Kings County from 1864 to 1868 ("Obituary. Ex-Judge John Dikeman," New York Times, August 26, 1879, 5). [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah, and Louisa often complained about what she here calls "heyds awful letters." Hannah in late 1868 suffered a serious thumb infection that led Dr. Samuel Thayer to lance her wrist in November. In early December Dr. Thayer amputated Hannah's thumb. For Louisa's report to Walt Whitman on the initial surgery, which is based on a letter from Charles, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt. [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's "aftern" (the "n" is clearly present) indicates that she received her daughter Hannah Heyde's letter in the afternoon, in contrast to Charles Heyde's letter from the "forenoon." The word is shortened because she reached the edge of the page. [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 April 1869 letter from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. However, Mattie's husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Louisa's son and Walt's favorite brother, described the family's recent move to a boarding house on Pine street in his March 25, 1869 letter to Walt. 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 cough, which Louisa mentions in this letter, was associated with a throat ailment that led to her death in 1873. See Randall H. Waldron, ed., "Introduction," Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may not have known Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's exact salary as chief engineer, but she had heard reports that Jeff's earnings far exceeded that of his brothers. Louisa wrote the previous year, based on a report by Moses Lane, that the St. Louis Water Works had "raised Jeffs salary to 6000," a figure that Louisa did not believe (see her May 5, 1868 letter to Walt). Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price have documented Jeff's initial salary at $330 per month, or $3960 per year. (See Jeff's May 23, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman, n. 1.) [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and sons Edward Whitman and George Washington Whitman moved from 1149 Atlantic Avenue to 71 Portland Avenue on Saturday, May 1, the traditional moving day in Brooklyn because annual leases expired on that day. [back]

12. 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]

13. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may refer to her hope that she will not have to move soon, or she may refer indirectly to the unexpected death of Margret Steers' husband (her neighbor; see previous note) in early 1869. [back]

14. 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]

15. 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]

16. "Walt Whitman, says the Springfield Republican, never carried his eccentricities of appearance to greater length than at present. He wanders up and down the avenue in Washington every day. His hair, to which the old poet gives free scope, falls below his shoulders, and his head is crowned by an immense, weather-stained hat, broad-brimmed as a Quaker's, and 'skewed' all out of shape" ("Facts and Fancies," Daily Evening Bulletin, February 22, 1869, 1). The note in the Philadelphia paper is a condensed excerpt from "Surface Life at Washington," Springfield Republican, February 16, 1869, 2,5. Also see Gary Scharnhorst, "Rediscovered Nineteenth-Century Whitman Articles," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 19:3 (2002), 183–186. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.