Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 20 July [1870]

Date: July 20, 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.00599

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



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July 201

My dear Walt

i2 got your letter yesterday3 but the paper you spoke of i havent received yet i dont seem to have much to write walter as i dont hear from any of our family i havent had any word from st louis4 in a very long time i sent a letter last week but have got no answer i have hans box5 ready and am waiting for an express man the one i left the order to come last tuesday did not come it was westcots6 too but he dident come i think its likely this is the last box i shall ever get up7 it has worrie me enoughf) the hot weather and all together i think it worries me more than it does them good i have sent her a picture framed and yours walt as you are coming home so soon8 i wont send it) the war news9 seems to be all the rage here i hope it will take the fenians10 and roughfs off that will doo some [gd?]11 i think the paper will come to day walt ice is very scarce and high12 i havent had much

you dont say any thing about your thumb walt i hope its well13


Notes:

1. This letter dates to July 20, 1870. The date July 20 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 the injury to and infection of Walt Whitman's thumb, and Louisa's remarks on political concerns about the widening of the Franco-Prussian War and on a Brooklyn heat wave also are 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's July 18?, 1870 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362). [back]

4. St. Louis was the home of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and family. The most recent letter from either Jeff or his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was Mattie's March 30, 1870 letter to Louisa (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 70–71). Jeff had departed Brooklyn in 1867 to assume the position of the Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis, and Mattie and their daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa, joined him in 1868. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." For more on Mattie, see Waldron, 1–26. [back]

5. 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 Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

6. Robert F. Westcott founded the Manhattan Express Company, a packet and mail service, in 1851 (see Alexander Stimson, Express Office Handbook and Directory [Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood, 1860], 115–116). The offices and delivery service were known by the name Westcott's Express. [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had mentioned preparing a box for daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde earlier in the month, and she intended to enclose a recent photograph (see Louisa's July 5, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). For Louisa's preparation of gift boxes, which Sherry Ceniza has designated "care packages" and compared to Walt's poetry, see Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 10–12. [back]

8. Walt Whitman returned to Brooklyn from late July through October 1870 to see into press Leaves of Grass (1871–1872), Passage to India (1871), and Democratic Vistas (1871). [back]

9. Summaries of London press reports speculated about the possible widening of the Franco-Prussian War should Russia or Spain intervene. If England joined the conflict, France threatened to provide material support to the Fenians (see below), an Irish independence organization ("The War Widening," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 19, 1870, 4). [back]

10. The Fenians or the Fenian Brotherhood was founded in New York in 1858 by John O'Mahoney. The open American association was affiliated with the Brotherhood (later the Irish Republican Brotherhood) founded in Dublin by James Stephens. Both organizations were dedicated to the cause of an independent Irish Republic (see Ireland and the Americas, ed. James P. Byrne, Philip Coleman, and Jason King [Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008], xxxii). Because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman paired the term "fenians" with "roughfs," she probably used the designation "Fenians" in a more general sense to refer to working-class Irish immigrants in New York. [back]

11. The very clipped form, which is most likely "gd," is presumably the word "good" that is contracted at the edge of the page. [back]

12. For the scarcity of ice and the rising death toll from heat in the New York and Brooklyn area, see "An Epidemic of Heat," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 20, 1870, 3. [back]

13. This postscript is inverted in the top margin of the first page.

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 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 22, 1870, and June 29, 1870[back]


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