Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 22 June [1870]

Date: June 22, 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.00596

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



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June 221

Walter dear

i received your letter yesterday was glad to hear you was as well in regard to your lame thumb2 as you are i feel quite smart to day and yesterday it is much cooler the hot days does seem to take me down it has been some pretty hot days here but is quite comfortable to day) i had a letter from han3 last week she seems pretty well wants me to come there very much indeed i wrote to her that i dident know how to undertake the journeey in my condition being at times so very lame i dont think i could go any how if i wasent lame i have got a dress and a few things to send her but i cant go there this summer i suppose Charley heyde wrote he had paid all for his house4 if he was a decent man they might live quite comfortable but that will never be

davis was here yesterday he is employ[ed?] at lowel as cheif engineer5 he is not going to st louis till september and then he will stop here again he says he has many little petty annoyances so he thought he would come to new york for a few days i told him i beleived there was always something in every department some one sort and some another but there must be a something i expect he feels any little thing more not having Jeff6 to condole with him he is quite nerviou[s?] and irritable at times [he?]7 looks firs rat[e?] george8 is away wont come i dont thin[k?] till about the 4th so walt you are going to have quite a great change in your department for better or for worser i suppose time will tell i see awfull things said about putting in Ackerman the ex rebel as he is called)9 i havent heard from st louis in a long time your letters is mostly all the corresspondence i have) no more this time

good bie walter dear
L W10


Notes:

1. This letter dates to June 22, 1870. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter June 22, and Richard Maurice Bucke added the year 1870. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362; 2:368). The year is correct and is consistent with President Ulysses S. Grant's expected appointment of Amos T. Ackerman as the attorney general after the resignation of Ebenezer R. Hoar. [back]

2. 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 1, 1870, June 8, 1870, June 29, 1870, and July 20, 1870[back]

3. 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]

4. Charles Louis Heyde discouraged Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's visit to Burlington because she was "becoming too aged." He also wrote that it is "as much as Han can do to take care of herself" and that he had "paid off the mortgage on my house" (see Charles L. Heyde to Walt Whitman, June 13, 1870, Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 226–228). [back]

5. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) served as the chief engineer of the Water Works in Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1870 to 1871. Davis took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. He would later serve as the city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). A lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Davis shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, her son Edward, and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's family before Jeff's departure for St. Louis. For Davis's work with Jeff, see Jeff Whitman's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

6. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Joseph Phineas Davis had served as an assistant engineer with Jeff in St. Louis from 1867 to 1869. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

7. It is unclear whether the word "he" is written over an abandoned word or canceled. [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. Amos Tappan Ackerman (1821–1880) was born in New Hampshire, attended Dartmouth College, and spent his early adulthood as a teacher before studying law in Georgia. Though he opposed secession, he served in the Confederate army under General Robert Toombs. After the Civil War, he served in Georgia's state constitutional convention and was named U.S. district attorney. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Ackerman to the office of attorney general after the resignation of Ebenezer R. Hoar on June 23, 1870 (see Mark Grossman and ABC-CLIO Information Service, Encyclopedia of the United States Cabinet [Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2000], 81–82). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman followed the appointment of the attorney general closely because Walt served as a clerk in that office. The "awfull things said" about Ackerman, aside from his being an ex-rebel, may refer to an article that mocked him as an unknown: "The Senate could hardly be pleased, because it didn't know such a person was ever born" ("A Few Things," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 18, 1870, 4). [back]

10. 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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