Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 4 March [1873]

Date: March 4, 1873

Editorial note: The annotation, "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.00621

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



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march 4 5 oclock1

dear walt

i2 suppose you have got my letter i wrote last saturday as soon as i received yours with the money3 i thought you would feel rather anxious untill you knew) its being directed to george4 at the foundry5 one would suppose it was a business letter it came all safe walt in your letter you wrote sunday6 you dident say how you was getting along you must tell me every particular every time you write i doo want you to get well so bad i dont know what to doo) the time seems as long to me as it does to you) i feel as if i wanted to doo something for you walter dear)

lou7 got a very nice letter yesterday from hattee poor dear child8 she talks like a woman and more sensible than many) she said her papa9 t[ho?]ught he and she and jessie10 would go to [b?]oard to mr Buckleys11 that they had offere[d?] to take them and mrs buckly be a kind of mother to me and little jessie poor hattie it made the tears come in my eyes every time i read it but she said it wasent like your own relatives

but her papa thought it was the next best thing for them) i was very glad to hear the arrangement i think its much better than keeping house poor little girls i hope their father will be spared to them hatty sent me a rose that was on poor mamas coffin she said) if she could see her dear grandma) every few lines she would say how her dear mama talked so much about grandma

i think by what i have heard them speak of mr and mrs buckley they are very good folks) i think jeffy takes his bereavement very hard)

i have got a letter to day from mary12 we wrote to her of matty death13 she says if she lives she will come and see me she felt very bad about your ilness14 but hoped you had got over it she wants you to come to see them i wish dear wal[t?] you and i could go down there when it comes hot weather i think it would doo us both good so we must both get so we can walk without limping

good bie my dear dear walt

mrs price15 was very glad to get your letter write just how you get along it is very cold here to day good bei


Notes:

1. This later dates to March 4, 1873. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter March 4, and Richard Maurice Bucke added the year 1873. Edwin Haviland Miller cited the date in Louisa's hand and Bucke's assigned year (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370). Louisa's letter reports one from granddaughter Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman, which was written since the recent death of her mother, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Mattie, the wife of Thomas Jefferson, Walt's brother, died on February 19, 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. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 1, 1873 ("last saturday") letter to Walt Whitman, and see Walt's April 30, 1873 letter to Louisa, in which he enclosed payment for Edward Whitman's board. [back]

4. 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]

5. Walt Whitman directed his letters for his mother to George Washington Whitman at Star's Foundry (Walt wrote "Starr's"). He instructed Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman, Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter, to direct letters for her grandmother to Star's Foundry as well. See Walt's March 1, 1873 letter to Hattie. [back]

6. See Walt Whitman's March 29–[30], 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

7. Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Lou" or "Loo," married George Washington Whitman in spring 1871, and they were soon living at 322 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey. At the insistence of George and his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward departed from Brooklyn to live with George and Lou in the Stevens Street house in August 1872, with Walt Whitman responsible for Edward's board. Her health in decline, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was displeased with the living arrangement and confided many frustrations, often directed at Lou, in her letters to Walt. She never developed the close companionship with Lou that she had with Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. [back]

8. Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. 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 her younger sister Jessie Louisa (1863–1957) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

9. Manahatta Whitman's "papa" was Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890), Walt Whitman's favorite brother. Jeff married Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in 1859, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had shared their Brooklyn residence until Jeff departed for St. Louis, where he in 1867 became Superintendent of Water Works and become a nationally recognized name. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

10. Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother, and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Jessie Louisa inherited the nickname "Sis" after older sister Manahatta became "Hattie" and was sometimes called "Duty," but Walt often called her by the nickname "California."  [back]

11. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman died on February 19, 1873. Shortly after her death, Jeff and daughters Manahatta "Hattie" and Jessie Louisa went to live with Mary Moody and Philemon C. Bulkley. See Hattie's February 27, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Library of Congress) and Jeff Whitman's February 24, 1873 letter to Louisa Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158–160; 160, n. 5). [back]

12. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

13. 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]

14. In January 1873, Walt Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873 letter to his mother and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office (see his March 21, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). [back]

15. After her move to Camden, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman corresponded regularly with Abby Price's daughter Helen Price in Brooklyn. Walt Whitman and Louisa knew Abby and her husband Edmund Price from their move to Brooklyn in 1856. During the 1860s, Abby Price and her family, especially Helen, were friends with Walt and his mother. Helen's reminiscences of Walt Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). Twelve of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters to Helen are held by the Morgan Library and Museum. For more on Abby Price's relationship to Walt, see Sherry L. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 45–95. [back]


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