Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [28 March 1870]

Date: March 28, 1870

Editorial note: The annotation, "28 March 1870," 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.00590

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



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monday1

My dear walt

i received your letter and paper with Jesse death2 in it poor soul i hope hes better off but it makes me feel very sad dident the doctor say any thing about how long he was sick before he died walter has doctor chappin3 left the institution i see it wasent his name that sent you the letter4 i dident write to George5 as he will be home friday or saturday he aint very busy now i am sorry walt you have a cold doo you have them dissy spells you had home i shall be glad when it comes time for you to come home i have had a letter from matty6 she is quite smart says the children is making reckoning of your coming out there

walter i did want the envelopes with your name on i havent one martha used them to write to you when she was here or i shouldent be out)7 walter dear you needent send the order this week next week will doo) you may send the papers this week if conveinent

we have had great havoc here in brooklyn with the storm we diden feel much the effects only the smoke came down the chimney bad by spells it was a dreary day8


your mother9


Notes:

1. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter March 28, 1870. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver cited Bucke's date, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver (Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 202–203; Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The date is certain. The letter was written after Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was notified of the death of her son Jesse Whitman, and it followed a large wind storm that produced substantial damage in Brooklyn, New York. Because the day Monday in Louisa's hand is consistent with the Brooklyn storm after Jesse's death, the letter dates to March 28, 1870. [back]

2. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870) died at Kings County Lunatic Asylum on March 21, 1870. Walt Whitman was notified of his brother's death (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter), and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman probably received a copy of Warner's letter from Walt. However, Walt's March 26?, 1870 letter to Louisa is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362). Jesse had suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to an asylum, where he was placed in December 1864. Shortly after an outburst that followed his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's death in December 1863—he threatened Martha Mitchell and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter Manahatta—Jeff sought to "put him in some hospital or place where he would be doctored" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 to Walt Whitman). Louisa resisted institutionalizing Jesse because, according to her December 25, 1863 letter, she "could not find it in my heart to put him there." On December 5, 1864, Walt committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush Avenue. For a short biography of Jesse, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]

3. The physician Edwin R. Chapin served as the physician at the Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush from 1859 to 1871 (William Schroeder, "Dispensaries, Hospitals, and Medical Societies of Kings County, 1830–1860," Brooklyn Medical Journal 10 [1896], 127). [back]

4. Edwin R. Chapin remained the physician at Kings County Lunatic Asylum, but the letter announcing Jesse Whitman's death on March 21, 1870 was signed by assistant physician "E Warner" (see Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

5. 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]

6. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," 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. 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]

7. Mattie Whitman visited Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Brooklyn from February to mid-March in 1870. For two of Mattie's letters to Walt Whitman during her visit, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 68–70. [back]

8. For reports on damages and deaths, see "The Storm," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 28, 1870, 2; "The Fury of the Equinox," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 28, 1870, 3. [back]

9. 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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