Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 1 June [1870]

Date: June 1, 1870

Editorial note: The annotation, "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.00595

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



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June 11

My dear Walter

i2 did feel so ansious to hear from you and i cant help but feel quite down hearted to hear your thumb3 is so bad yet i am so sorry for you to have such a tedious long time but i hope you will have it all come right in time but it seemes a long time it seemes sometimes as if a sore never will get well and then at other times it will heal very quick it is too bad) how doo you do to write at the office or [dont?] you4 i wish you could write what the doctor thinks of it and what you put on it but i dont want to have you write any extras because i know by the writing it must be difficult for you i long for a letter so bad thinking you will be better the next one

but i hope you will not get discourage[d?] my dear walter for it certainly will get well) i had a letter from Jeff5 he said they had the radical6 and was much pleased with the peece in it we had a gread day here on monday as likewise you had in washington decorating the soldiers graves)7

i suppose walter you saw the death of richard hunt in the papers8 he was buried on monday at 2 oclock at his residence at [stanton?] st9 i saw it was about 11 in the forenoon and i thought i must go i went up to mytle av and got me a pair of gloves and when i got back i was so lame i had to give it up as i would have to walk several bloks i was afraid to under[take?] it what ailed him i dont know i belive his children are all married)10 i expect george11 home on saturday

good bie walter dear dont get discoured

the order has come with many obligations12


Notes:

1. This letter dates to June 1, 1870. The date June 1 is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1870. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). The year 1870 is consistent with a thumb injury and infection that Walt Whitman suffered in late April or early May 1870, and Louisa inquired about Walt's thumb in several letters between May and July. The death of a butcher named Richard Hunt and the appearance of an article on Whitman by Anne Gilchrist are also consistent with the year. [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. Walt Whitman cut his thumb in late April or early May 1870, and it became infected. He referred to the injury in two letters from Brooklyn, a May 11, 1870 letter to Walbridge A. Field and a second May 11, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman inquired about or expressed concern for his thumb in this and five other letters to Walt from May or June to July 1870: May 17? to June 11?, 1870, June 8, 1870, June 22, 1870, June 29, 1870, and July 20, 1870[back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman canceled the original "do" and replaced it with "dont." [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. Walt Whitman sought a copy of an article by Anne Gilchrist (see "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman," Radical 7 [May 1870], 345–359). The Boston Radical was a Unitarian periodical edited by Sidney H. Morse (1833–1903). Gilchrist's "Woman's Estimate" was based on letters that Gilchrist wrote to William Michael Rossetti after he edited for publication Poems by Walt Whitman (London: Hotten, 1868). According to Jerome M. Loving, Rossetti encouraged Gilchrist to have her enthusiastic letters published and forwarded them to William D. O'Connor. O'Connor initially contacted William C. Church and Francis P. Church, editors of the Galaxy. After they rejected Gilchrist's piece, O'Connor submitted it to the Radical (see Walt Whitman's Champion [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978], 92–93). For more on Gilchrist, see "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)." [back]

7. May 30 was designated Decoration Day in Washington, D.C. The holiday was not officially recognized in New York, but Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter shows that some Brooklyn residents engaged in unofficial observations (see "From Washington," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 30, 1870, 3). According to Drew Gilpin Faust, Decoration Day as a predecessor of Memorial Day was observed independently in Northern and Southern states, and the competing observances "reflect[ed] persistent sectional division" (This Republic of Suffering [New York: Vintage, 2008], 241). [back]

8. A Richard Hunt (1803–1870), a butcher, died in Brooklyn in May 1870 (see United States Census Mortality Schedule, 1870). Hunt may be the butcher that moved in at 1194 Atlantic Street (see Louisa's November 19, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

9. The street name is semi-legible. It is transcribed here as "stanton" because that street name is the only possible name for a street within walking distance. Portland, the street on which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman resided, intersected with Myrtle Avenue at Washington Park. Stanton Street was about seven blocks from the intersection of Portland and Myrtle. Duffield street was renamed Stanton in 1870 (see Brooklyn Directory [1871]). [back]

10. The 1860 census lists the butcher Richard Hunt (1803–1870) as having 5 children. They ranged in age from 20 to 7 years, a decade before his reported death (see United States Census, 1860., New York, New York: Ward 17, District 1). [back]

11. 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]

12. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman here acknowledges receipt of a money order. Walt Whitman often enclosed a few dollars (up to five) in each postal service letter to his mother, and he transmitted larger amounts by money order. Louisa 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).

This postscript is inscribed in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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