Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 19 January [1869]

Date: January 19, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "19 Jan. 1873," 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.00612

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



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January 191

Walter dear

i2 got your letter to day tuesday with the money all safe am Obliged to you for it3 i thought perhaps the snow storm would prevent my getting it to day but it come and mrs Oconer s4 it is a beautifull letter [very?] friendly and very kind if she ever comes to new york i hope she will come and see me and stay awhile give my love to them all) we sent hanna s box last thursday we sent it by hildreth s express5 i told him to pay the freight and bring the receipt or check to me and i would pay him he came that evening but brought no receipt but said he had it to the office that they generally put them there so i paid him 1–65 cts for the freight but have never heard whether they ever received it or not i wrote a letter to han6 thursday and kept it open till the express came thinking he would have a check so i could put it in the letter i sent the letter on friday morning with a list of the articles in the box if i dont hear something about it to morrow i will write to heyde7 i shall be very sorry if she dont get them george8 says he thinks its all right) we sent 2 dresses and lot of muslin and flannel skirts and can of peaches and new years cake and lot of french candy and 2 dollars in mony and cotton and sewing silk and linings for the dresses it would be too bad if she dont get them Edd9 says the darnd bugger will send em off to his sister that han wont get them eddy is very indegnant indeed i felt anxious to get them and went out one of those slushey days dident get my feet wet but got them very damp and cold and i got such a very bad cold and pain in my face i was real sick two or three days i coulden[t?] sleep for the pain in my face saturday night in the evening it got easey so i slept quite good and sunday morning i felt better and i was very glad i did for Davis10 came in the forenoon and staid till toward evening he staid to dinner we used the new knives and castor11 george helpt me get dinner so we got along nicely davis told george all about the works and a dr[ay?]ing of the ingine house he had with him)12 george was much interested he is very clever he talks some of going back by the way of washington13 he thinks of starting next monday i have had a letter from matt14 she seems to be gaining quite much i think by what she says) Jeffy15 is very busy she says but every thing goes on so nicely that he is very jubilant)

Walter dear you spoke of sending me an a[t?]lantic if you havent sent it when you get this letter you need not george bought one on saturday night he thinks your peice16 is very fine very indee[d?] i like it too better every time i read it) davis will get one to take home)

the house is progressing quite well the weather has been so good they have the second story beams laid17 but this bad weather is some against them but they have worked to day i beleive) georges men commenced to lay pipe but had to stop to day) good bie i hope you will keep well walter dear i got quite down while i was sick it dont take much to get mama discouraged in these days


Notes:

1. This letter dates to January 19, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1873. But Edwin Haviland Miller dated it to 1869, and Sherry Ceniza dated it to 1872 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367; Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers [Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998], 242, n. 1). Miller is correct: the letter dates to 1869. The source of Bucke's error is unknown, and Ceniza was misled by Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's plan to send a package to daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde, which seems to echo her January 12, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman that Ceniza dated incorrectly to 1871 (242, n. 1).

The year 1869 can be confirmed by the publication of one of Walt Whitman's poems and a visit to Brooklyn by Joseph Phineas Davis, which closely matches a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. Louisa received a copy of the February 1869 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which printed Walt Whitman's "Proud Music of the Sea-Storm." Louisa did not note the title of the poem, but she did inform Walt that he need not forward a copy. Walt acknowledged receiving copies of the February issue of the Atlantic Monthly on almost the same day (see his January 20, 1869 letter to James T. Field). Joseph Phineas Davis visited Louisa the previous Sunday, and the possibility that Davis would visit Walt in Washington on his return to St. Louis is corroborated by Jeff Whitman's January 21, 1869 letter to Walt. Davis in March 1870 was working in Lowell, Massachusetts (see Louisa's March 16, 1870 to Walt), and in 1871 Davis was working in Boston, so his plan to return to St. Louis corroborates the year 1869. Finally, the letter refers to January 19 as "to day tuesday," and January 19 fell on Tuesday in the year 1869. [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 January 18?, 1869 letter is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361). [back]

4. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913), who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. She had a close personal relationship with Whitman and helped to nurse him after his January 1873 stroke. The correspondence between Walt and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

5. Hildreth's Express was a package and delivery service located at 335 Cumberland Street near Fulton Avenue. [back]

6. 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]

7. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, in 1852, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt. Louisa eventually received a letter from Heyde (but not Hannah) in mid-February, which led her to remark to Walt in her February 16, 1869 letter: "i felt very glad even to hear from him)." [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 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]

9. 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]

10. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) 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. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). 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]

11. A castor is a serving container with a perforated top for dispensing powdered condiments. [back]

12. Joseph Phineas Davis and George Washington Whitman may have been discussing the physical plants that housed the pump engines for the Water Works or the "dr[iv]ing" or "dr[ain]ing" of the pumps themselves. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's phrase is awkward as it begins with "davis told george all about" and concludes with "he had with him." She likely erred by referring to the communication between Davis and her son George both in the sense of a conversation and in the sense of Davis's telling George information. [back]

13. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman relayed Davis's hint that he may visit Walt Whitman in Washington on his return trip to St. Louis. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman conveyed the same hint in his January 21, 1869 letter to Walt. Walt and Davis knew each other because Davis had shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa and Jeff Whitman's family. Whether Davis visited Walt in January 1869 is not known. [back]

14. 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. Based on the report that Mattie "seems to be gaining" in this letter, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had probably received the January 7, 1869 letter, in which Mattie wrote, "I cough very little and raise scarcly any [blood] which I think looks favorable" (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 64). After residing in Brooklyn in a home that she shared with Louisa and Louisa's son Edward, 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. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that led to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Waldron, 1–26. [back]

15. 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]

16. See Walt Whitman's "Proud Music of the Sea-Storm" (Atlantic Monthly 23 [February 1869], 199–203). The February issue of the Atlantic Monthly was available on January 16: Walt Whitman acknowledged receipt of copies in his January 20, 1869 letter to James T. Field: a "package of February magazines, sent on the 16th, arrived safely yesterday." For more on Whitman's publications in the Atlantic Monthly, see "Poems in Periodicals." [back]

17. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved from 1149 Atlantic Avenue to the house that George building at 71 Portland Avenue "opposite the Arsenal" at the end of April (see Louisa's April 25–27?, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]


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