Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [11–13 February 1873]

Date: February 11–13, 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.00614

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



page image
image 1
page image
image 2



well my dear walt1

how are you this morning i2 would very much like to come in and see you and get your breakfast for you but as i cant i must content myself with writing these few lines we have had later news from poor dear matty3 jeffie wrote the [7?]th4 she was more comfortable and her spells of coughfing was somewhat esier i think we shall get a letter to day from Jeffy if i doo i will write to you again walter dear i got your letter yesterd i am glad to you are gaining some if but slowly if we had a home walt you might loaf as long you wanted to but i gess you will be glad to get out in the open air once more5 i shouldent wonder if staying in the house so much made your head worse its bad enough to have any thing the matter with the head its bad enoughf to be disabled any where but we cant run away from sickness so we have to be thankfull its no wors i have felt very sad walter dear thinking of dear matty Jeffy writes she wants to see you and me poor poor matt good bie6 dear walt keep up your spirits and hope for the best what a good fellow pete7 is

i have had quite a lot of correspondence from new york concerning your condition our relations8


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between February 11 and February 13, 1873. The most probable date is February 12, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 1, 1873, but its topical consistency and verbal echoes of letters from both Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Walt Whitman sets the range of possible dates between February 11 and February 13. February 12?, 1873, the date proposed by Edwin Haviland Miller, is most probable (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370). The letter reports that Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's coughing is "somewhat easier," probably in echo of a similar phrase in Jeff's February 7, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 154). Louisa observes that Walt "will be glad to get out in the open air once more," and she seems to echo Walt's hope that he can "get out—or to the front door, at any rate" (see his February 10, 1873 letter to Louisa). Finally, Walt acknowledged that he "rec'd your letter Saturday" (February 14) in his February 17, 1873 reply. Louisa had received both Jeff's February 7 letter and Walt's February 10 letter, and Walt received this letter on February 14. Therefore, this letter dates between February 11 and February 13, 1873. [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. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman died on February 19, 1873 from complications associated with a throat ailment. Mattie and her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman 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. The letters after Mattie's death show that emotional acceptance of the fact was difficult for Louisa. 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. Waldron reports that a physician identified the cause of death as cancer (3). Robert Roper has speculated that Mattie's accompanying bronchial symptoms may have been associated with tuberculosis (Now the Drum of War [New York: Walker, 2008], 78–79). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's number 7 is ambiguous, but her phrase "somewhat esier [sic]" echoes Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's February 7, 1873 letter to Louisa (see Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 154).

Jeff Whitman (1833–1890) was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff in 1867 became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. He married wife Mattie in 1859, and Louisa had shared their Brooklyn residence until Jeff departed for St. Louis. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

5. Walt wrote that he can "get out—or to the front door, at any rate," and he repeated the assurance that he is "progressing," "improving," or "gaining" in echo of all letters since his paralytic stroke on January 23, 1873. See his February 10, 1873 letter to Louis Van Velsor Whitman and the eight other letters between January 26 and February 9, 1873. [back]

6. Jeff Whitman inquired whether his mother thought Walt Whitman would be able to visit St. Louis, and he cautioned her, "you must not be surprised to hear that it is all over with the dear soul at any time." Two days later, Jeff added Mattie Whitman "speaks often and much about you—wants to see you very, very much" (see his February 5, 1873 and February 7, 1873 letters to Louisa Whitman in Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 153–155). Walt wrote to Jeff on February 8, 1873 that he was unable "to move from one room to the other" and so "can but send my love, dear, dear, sister." [back]

7. Walt befriended Peter Doyle (1843–1907), a horsecar conductor in Washington, around 1865. Though Whitman informed Doyle of his flirtations with women in their correspondence, Martin G. Murray affirms that "Whitman and Doyle were 'lovers' in the contemporary sense of the word." Doyle assisted in caring for Whitman after his stroke in January 1873. See Murray, "Pete the Great: A Biography of Peter Doyle." [back]

8. Helen Price inquired anxiously about Walt Whitman's health and wrote that his illness had been reported in the papers (see her January 31, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Trent Collection, Duke University). [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.