Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 19 October [1869]

Date: October 19, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "19 Oct 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.00585

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Caterina Bernardini



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tuesday October 191

my dear Walter

i receeved your letter to day with the money and harpers magsine2 i was glad to have the number and letter too i scarce ever see the magazine now adays but like to read it particularly at present for i have had such a sore thumb on my right hand i couldent hardly sew a stich i got a splenter in it before the folks went away and then slopping about in cold water it got so bad i put slipery elm3 on it but it dident doo much good but it has got so i can use it to day i was so disappointed last saturday in Georges not coming home i wanted him to come very much to fix the stove for one thing but Edd and i got it up yesterday i thought we could hardly get it out but we did and its much better it has been quite cold here i got a bushel of coal this morning and it works much better than wood) i havent heard from st louis since i last wrote to you walter i dont know whether matty4 is coming on here this fall or not i dont think it would be good for her i think its too late in the season but if they come we will doo the best we can) not one of the prices has been here since you went away you know helen5 was here just before you left and i said i thought she hadent a very good time i sent a letter to hanna6 last week a good long letter urging her as much as i thought would doo to come and mak us a good vesit that i particularly wanted her to come and that she must write to me as soon as she received my letter without fail and i suppose that will be the last of it i put one dollar in the letter and said i send a little change but will send more next time whether she ever gets any of the letters i dont know) i have had thoughts of sending a line to Dr thayer7 what doo you think of it walter doo you think it would be best or not) mary8 wanted me very much to go to Burlng9 and she would stay and keep edd10 i told her i dident feel able to undergo the journey) you know mary wrote that Ansel11 they thought failed the business was while they were down in virginia he got a drinking and John Louisa s husband12 got very much put out with him and throwed his liquor overboard and they came home ansel come near dying with the deliru trem[es?]13 he was master mason in [his?] lodge but is broke and gone down to a common man14 mary and louisa belongs to the presbeteran church but the change of heart we wont say any thing about she says she is as good as the rest and have a 20 dol pew and [with?]

Love to all of the Oconors15
LW

sorry to hear her sister is ill16


Correspondent:
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)."

Notes:

1. This letter dates to October 19, 1969. October 19 fell on a Tuesday in the year 1869, which is consistent with the year added in Richard Maurice Bucke's hand. Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The declining possibility that daughter-in-law Martha Mitchel "Mattie" Whitman would visit Brooklyn during the winter and lingering concerns about the health of daughter Hannah Whitman Heyde, whose thumb had been amputated the previous December, are consistent with the year. [back]

2. Louisa wrote the letter "s" in her spelling "magsine" over her letter "a."

Harper's Weekly Magazine debuted in 1857. Though designed like its sister monthly to promote British reprints, Harper's Weekly was notable for its Civil War coverage and began publishing American writers in the ensuing decades. Walt Whitman's poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" appeared in the September 28, 1861 issue of the newspaper, and two poems by Whitman were first published in the periodical in the 1880s (for all works by Whitman, see Harper's Weekly Magazine). [back]

3. The application of a poultice made from ground or powdered slippery elm bark was a common herbal treatment for swelling and infection in the nineteenth century.  [back]

4. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) 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 had a long-term cough and throat ailment that would lead to her death in February 1873, and she returned to Brooklyn in late-October 1869 and remained through late-December for medical treatment. Walt Whitman reported on Mattie's medical condition to her husband, his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, in his October 25, 1868 letter. 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]

5. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

7. Samuel W. Thayer, a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School, performed surgeries in Burlington, Vermont during the 1860s. A serious thumb infection in late 1868 led Dr. Thayer to lance Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's wrist in November. In early December, he amputated Hannah's thumb. For Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's report to Walt Whitman on the initial surgery from a non-extant letter by Charles L. Heyde, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Walt inquired of Dr. Thayer with regard to Hannah's health on December 8, 1868[back]

8. 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]

9. "Burlng" is a shortened form of Burlington, the Vermont residence of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's youngest daughter Hannah Heyde and Hannah's husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1890). [back]

10. 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]

11. Ansel Van Nostrand was the husband of Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899), Louisa's eldest daughter and Walt Whitman's younger sister. [back]

12. Based on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phrase, this John is probably the husband to the third daughter of Ansel and Mary Whitman Van Nostrand, Louisa Van Nostrand. For more on Mary's daughter Louisa, see Some Notes on Whitman's Family, Monographs on Unpublished Whitman Material, no. 2 (Brooklyn: Comet Press, 1941), 4.  [back]

13. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term delerium tremens (trembling delirium) is used in medical Latin to describe severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which are characterized by violent shakes and delusions.

It is possible that Louisa struck through the "s" in her spelling "tremes" and inserted the letters "man" to make the form "tremman"; more likely, she inscribed a separating line between her word "tremes" and the inserted word "man" below. The inserted word "man" concerns her son-in-law Ansel Van Nostrand's having been demoted from a "master mason" to a "common man" is his Masonic lodge. [back]

14. For Ansel Van Nostrand's participation in a Masonic lodge, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 28–June 1, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman.

It is possible that the word "man" in the phrase "common man" was inserted to complete the phrase "deliru tremman" in the previous line (see note above). [back]

15. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was one of Walt Whitman's staunchest defenders, and Walt was also close with William's wife Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years, and he wrote often in his letters of their daughter Jean "Jenny" or "Jeannie." Though Whitman and William O'Connor would break in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated black citizens, Ellen remained friendly with Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

16. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers here to Ellen M. O'Connor's sister, Mary Jane "Jeannie" (Tarr) Channing (1828–1897). Walt Whitman visited often with Mary Jane and her husband Dr. William Ellery Channing during his October 1868 visit to Providence, Rhode Island (see Walt's October 17, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle). [back]


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