Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [7 March?–15 May? 1871]

Date: March 7?–May 15?, 1871

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.00603

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



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My dear dear Walt1

i2 sat down and let every thing go to write this it seems so long since i have written to you well georgey3 came home on saturday and went back on sunday and matt and the children went back with him he insisted when he first came home on saturday on their going but i think he got rather sorry he did before they started i think he wished matt4 to go but the children5 was so noisey he got sick of his bargain if i had felt well i wouldent let them go i hope matty will like her)6 but its very evedent she will be boss george has spent 700 dollars for his house i think he will not add much to his bank book) i know walt you will say mother is childish but walt there is such a difference when he used to come home he would ask me if i wanted any thing when he went down town saturday but it was so different this time

burn this letter up

when he was going away he asked me if i dident want some money i said i would like to have a little as matt had used her money all the time she had been here he gave me six dollars) he makes 14 dollars and over per day) but walt there is no knowing what or how a man may change when he gets married george is certainly the last one you would think as he always was set in his way) but as you say by my putting a bed in the front room wonders will never cease i got your letter walter dear and the money order was glad to have it dident expect to get it till this week and hatt got her [graphe?]7 she said aint uncle walt good) the children is very noisey and wild but matt is so kind to me i put up with it all) when matt comes home she will give you a descriptio[n?] i hope it will be favorable

good bie walt dear

send an envelope8


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between March 7 and May 15, 1871. On an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here), Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter March 1871 with a note that George Washington Whitman, who married in "March '71," spent $700 on his house and is already living in Camden, New Jersey at the time of the letter.

George probably married Louisa Orr Haslam on March 14, 1871 (see Walt Whitman, "Marriages," Missouri Historical Society, reprinted in Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 27; and see H. Stanley Craig, Camden County New Jersey Marriages, 1837–1910: Records Filed in the Office of the County Clerk [Merchantville, New Jersey: H. Stanley Craig, 1932], 133). A March date for George's marriage conflicts with Whitman scholarly consensus, that he married Louisa Orr on April 14, 1871 (see Richard Maurice Bucke, "Genealogy of Whitman Family," Trent Collection, Duke University, reprinted in Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 596). But because March 14 is both in Walt Whitman's hand and is derived independently from the records assembled by Craig, March 14 for the date of George's marriage is likely correct. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman and daughters arrived in Brooklyn no earlier than February 14 but perhaps several days later (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's February 9, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman). Another letter that may corroborate the March marriage is Louisa's March 19?–May 14?, 1871 letter to Walt. If a March 14 marriage date for George and Louisa Orr Haslam is assumed, and Mattie's family began their five- or six-week visit to Brooklyn and Camden in late February, this letter dates to just before the marriage (March 7?) or just after it (March 15–17?). The latest possible date for this letter can be inferred from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's expectation that Mattie Whitman will report to Walt about Brooklyn after she returns "home," possibly to Brooklyn unless Mattie is returning to St. Louis directly from Camden. Mattie and family may be en route to St. Louis, or they may be visiting George and Louisa Orr near their marriage date. Louisa's next extant letter to Walt, June 13, 1871, refers to St. Louis but not to Mattie's recent visit, so Mattie and family had returned to St. Louis by mid-May.

To summarize, this letter could date to some days before George and Louisa's marriage (March 7?), to just after their marriage (March 15–17?), or to just before the return of Mattie and daughters to St. Louis (March 30–May 14?). If Louisa's March 19?–May 14?, 1871 letter dates April 30, the latest possible date for this letter is a week or two after that letter, from May 7 to May 15, 1871. However, this letter is likely to date earlier, to just after Mattie and daughters visit George and Louisa Orr in Camden near their marriage. [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. 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 also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden, and he married Louisa Orr Haslam in spring 1871. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

4. 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]

5. The children are Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's daughters Manahatta (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," and Jessie Louisa (1863–1957), known as "Sis." Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. Hattie and Sis (known also as "California" and "Duti") were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

6. Mattie Whitman is going to meet George's fiancée or new wife Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," at their new home at 322 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey. [back]

7. If the letter dates to late April and Manahatta Whitman has received a periodical with a newly published poem by Walt Whitman, the poem is "Warble for Lilac-Time," Galaxy 9 (May 1871), 686. However, in that case Louisa Van Velsor Whitman has named the wrong periodical. The spelling "graphe" more likely refers to a celebrated London periodical, The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, which was founded by William Luson Thomas (1830–1900) and began publication in December 1869. Its high-quality illustrations and its coverage of the Franco-Prussian War helped its circulation to rise rapidly, to around 50,000 subscribers by 1870 and up to 250,000 subscribers by 1874. See Laurel Brake & Marysa Demoor, ed., Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (London: British Library, 2009). Louisa also acknowledged a copy of the Graphic in her February 9, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

8. The postscript is inverted in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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