Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [8 April 1873]

Date: April 8, 1873

Editorial note: The annotation, "8 April 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.00624

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Caterina Bernardini



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My dear walt1

i got your letter of sunday and monday and the papers2 all come to day tuesday i am always glad to get a letter from you walter dear i wish i could get one every day O walt if you could only say you was well once more i doo pray for your recovery walt and i doo think you will be restored to health again it is very tedious to be so long disabled and your head you speak about being so bad how does it feel walter dear do you have dissiness is it a heavy feeling3 either is bad enoughf i think any thing the matter with the head affects the whole system i wish you could have a change you have been so long and so much alone but i hope you dont get down spirited) it sometimes comes on a person before they are aware of it) i got very nervous after matty s death4 and have such a choaking sensation but i know what makes me its thinking and fretting but i try to not think of things any more than i can help) george5 is up to his eys in business he is very anxious to get all the work he can his house6 is begun the cellar is dug and the foundation laid he is going to build a three story brick house with an extention parlor and dining room and kitchen and shed on the first floor the man does it all for i beleive its 38 hundred dollars puts in a range in the kitchen and bath and i believe privee and water closet there is no fireplaces except in the kitchen but one chimney peice in the whole house that chimney peice in the parlor he is to purchase himself no places for stove pipes) george says he thinks he will lose money on it) if we ever build walt which i hope we shall7 i dont think it will be quite so extensive) the cheapest house that you could build would be a 2 story house with 2 rooms below and 2 rooms above with a shed kichen with no fireplace in the house except in the kichen there to have a good size fireplace so walter dear we can have our washing done) there is ways for ventilation without fereplaces and its much cheaper to have stove pipes than firplac[es?] what do you think of my plan walt we couldent have many visitors to stay all night well walt i dont know whether you will like to hear about our house affairs if you dont want to hear about it dont turn over the paper as its all on this side

you remember i told you they thought Louisa was in the family way they think so still george and aunty i doubt if it is so but georgey is very much pleased and they wont let her hardly move yesterday she dident come down stairs all day monday) her aunt went to her daughter sunday night and has only come back to day so i took up her meals all day yesterday but to day she has come down but lays on the sofa) i think her aunt will live with them Lou8 says george likes to have her here and he does i make no doubt he make a great time with her folks) i liked it better before her aunt came they want to be by themselves

walt what did you think of Josephenes letter she is a very nice girl9

i got a letter from helen10 to day she and her ma wants me to come to their house and stay a while but i shall never go of course but its very kind of them

write again walt this week

we will hope for the best wont we walter dear

there was a man here to day that had put out some trees for george and george left the money to pay him and i went to the alley to pay him as lou was lying down and i was lame and he said if i would get a pint of the best whiskey and put 2 teaspoonfuls of salt peter in it and take a teaspoonful night and morning it would help me11 and bath with it too he said i dont know as i shall get it but if you think of it walter sometime when your doctor is there you may ask him about it i have heard of something simular being good for rhumatis12

we have the doctor here most every day but i dont put faith in him


Correspondent:
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)."

Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 8, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the letter the date April 8, 1873, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:212, n. 59; 2:370). April 8, 1873 fell on a Tuesday, the day that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman indicated she wrote, and the letter acknowledges Walt Whitman's "letter of sunday and monday and the papers." Walt had written a letter over the course of two days, the Sunday and Monday preceding, and he enclosed with the letter a "bundle of papers" (see Walt's April 6–7, 1873 letter to Louisa). Therefore, Bucke's and Miller's date is the most probable. However, Louisa's letter seeks Walt's opinion of a letter from Josephine Barkeloo. If this letter dates April 8, the request is peculiar because Walt had enclosed a letter from Josephine Barkeloo with his March 30, 1873 letter to his brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman. If Louisa was enquiring about the letter from Barkeloo that Walt forwarded on March 30, the date is curious: Louisa had speculated about the arrival of Barkeloo's ship in her March 29, 1873 letter to Walt, so Walt could not have enclosed in his letter to Jeff a letter from Barkeloo that Louisa had yet to receive. In this letter, Louisa asks, "walt what did you think of Josephenes letter"? One explanation, though contrary to Louisa's usual timeliness, is that she delayed asking Walt's opinion for more than a week. Another speculative explanation is that Louisa had received two different letters from Barkeloo, one at the end of March, which reported Josephine's arrival in England, and a second letter, which she enclosed with this one, after Barkeloo's arrival in Belgium. Any resolution for this matter must remain speculative, but the matter of Barkeloo's letter (or letters) is secondary and cannot alone undermine the inferred date of this letter. [back]

2. Walt Whitman had enclosed a "bundle of papers" with the letter he wrote the previous Sunday and Monday (see his April 6–7, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). For the poem that he enclosed, see "Sea Captains, Young or Old," published in the April 4, 1873 issue of the New York Daily Graphic[back]

3. Walt Whitman in January 1873 suffered a paralytic stroke that initially confined him to bed: it took weeks before he could resume walking. He first reported the stroke to his mother in his January 26, 1873 letter. Whitman in his most recent letter said that he wrote from the Treasury Department office, but he had confined comments on his condition to two brief remarks, that he did "not feel very well" and that "My head is still so feeble" (see his April 6–7, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

4. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) died on February 19, 1873 from complications associated with a throat ailment that had first been noted by her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in February 1863. Mattie 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. The letters after Mattie's death show that emotional acceptance of the fact was difficult for Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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]

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. The description that follows is the most extensive description of the new house that George Washington Whitman was building on a corner lot at 431 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey (see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975], 31). [back]

7. Walt Whitman had proposed building a house for himself, his mother, and his brother Edward Whitman. He first speculated—"if you & I had a house here"—as Washington, D.C. prepared for Ulysses S. Grant's inauguration (see his February 23, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). And he followed up a week before this letter: "I shall surely get here or buy or build a little place here, rooms enough to live in for you & Ed and me" (see his March 28, 1873 letter to Louisa). [back]

8. 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]

9. Josephine Barkeloo, a young Brooklyn friend of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was the daughter of Tunis S. Barkeloo, a clerk (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:209, n. 50). Josephine sailed to Belgium in winter 1872. For her impending departure and her hope to "perfect myself in the French and German languages," see Josephine's December 16, 1872 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Library of Congress). Based on the phrasing in Louisa's letter, it seems most likely that Louisa enclosed a letter from Josephine. However, Walt Whitman had enclosed a letter from Josephine Barkeloo with his March 30, 1873 letter to his brother, Thomas Jefferson Whitman. Perhaps Louisa's query about Josephine's late-March letter was long delayed, or perhaps Louisa referred to a second letter. [back]

10. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of 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). [back]

11. The letter continues, inverted, in the top margin of the page. [back]

12. Rheumatism or arthritic rheumatism, which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman also spells "rheumattis" or "rhumatis," is joint pain, which was attributed to dry joints. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 704. [back]


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