Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [13 or 14 May 1873]

Date: May 13 or 14, 1873

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.00610

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



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my dearly beloved walter1

thank god i2 feel better this morning i hope i shall be better now my rheumatism is better in my limbs whether its that or what has affected my head i cannot tell but my head and my very brain has seemed to be affected3 but i feel better this morning4 and hope i shall be better still when i feel so bad i want so much to be with you walter dear george and Lou5 has been kind to me

good bie

i think we would be happier if we was together walter dear we will live saving6 and i hope i shall be well enoughf to see to things eddy7 is very good boy lately he says he hopes i wont die good bie my dear walt

i have got your good letter dear walt8


Notes:

1. This letter dates to May 13 or May 14, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter early 1873. Edwin Haviland Miller dated it about May 17, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:220, n. 85). Miller's date is more accurate than Bucke's, but a slightly earlier date (May 13 or May 14) can be inferred from Walt Whitman's letter in response and from Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman's report on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's condition. Walt's mother had described "a trembling in my whole system" in her May 5–6 letter, and he was alarmed by his mother's letter (see his May 7, 1873 reply). Louisa's next brief letter, which instructed Walt "don't send any more papers," was hardly reassuring (see her May 6 or 7, 1873 to Walt). Then her almost daily letters to Walt stopped. Louisa was apparently unable to write Walt for several days, and this letter is the next one he received. Walt acknowledged a letter, probably this one, the following week as "your letter yesterday (Thursday)" (see his May 11, 1873, May 13, 1873, and May 16, 1873 letters to Louisa). Louisa Orr Whitman's report on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's condition, that she "feel[s] better this morning," is in accord with Walt's description in his May 16, 1873 letter. To be consistent both with the extended absence of letters after Louisa's May 6 or 7, 1873 letter to Walt and with her reported improvement in Louisa Orr's May 16, 1873 letter to Walt, this letter is the one that Walt received on Thursday, May 15. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman at the onset of this event, presumably a stroke, described "trembling in my whole system" (see her May 5–6, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). Based on the deterioration of her handwriting in that letter and the absence of letters for several days, she may have suffered a second and more incapacitating event. This letter is the first that she sent after the event, though Walt had inquired anxiously for news for several days. On May 11 he wrote that he would "feel anxious until I hear from you"; two days later he asked his mother to "try to write a line soon after you get this" (see Walt's May 11, 1873 and May 13, 1873 letters to Louisa). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's improved condition is consistent with a letter that Walt Whitman received from Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman on May 15, 1873. Walt reported, "I have got a letter from Sister Lou written Thursday morning, which gives me great relief, as it says that Sunday was your worst day, & that you have got relief now" (see Walt's May 16, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor 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 also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden, and he married Louisa Orr Haslam in spring 1871. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved from Brooklyn to reside with them in Camden in August 1872. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

6. See the extended description of the house that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman speculated she and her son could share in her April 8, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. Walt prompted this fantasy by suggesting the same a few weeks earlier: "if you & I had a house here" (see his February 23, 1873 letter to Louisa).  [back]

7. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

8. This second postscript appears in the top margin of the first page. See Walt's May 13, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]


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