Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 1 May [1873]

Date: May 1, 1873

Editorial note: The annotation, "1 May 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.00627

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



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walter dear1

your letter2 is come this 1 of may with the money all safe i3 received your letter also on tuesday4 i was glad to hear you was so well then but sorry to hear you dont feel so well when you wrote this i want you to write just how you are whenever you write) i got a letter from Jeffy5 last monday i think it was he writes they are all very well indeed he is to get quite a lift from his kansas work and he said it would come in very good for him i dont know what his expences is but they seem to be very well satisfied at their boarding place he said mr Buckly was coming on to new york in a short time and he would come back by the way of washington and jeff wanted me to write to you to ask if you couldent come on to st lou is with him6 i dont suppose you could go any way so maybee walter dear you had better write to Jeff7 i have not felt very well lately i am troubled very much lately with the dispepsy which makes me feel pretty bad we have lived quite poor lately as they thought george8 wouldent get the boston work but yesterday he got a letter from davis giving him the work9 i dont know as it will make any difference but i doo feel sometimes if i could have something except the regular fare i should like it as my appetite has been not very good but i beleive people cant change when they get in such ways of saving to hear the talk you would think they were very much put to it george has had work for mr Lane10 he expects to get 6 dollars a day for it all and 8 a day for the new york11 and he will get 5 per day for boston but mr Lanes work12 will be done before long i beleive)

i paid Lou13 the money for edds board she is better is around all the time now write as often as you can dear walt the papers come on tuesday all safe you dont get the graffick i suppose now14

good bie walter dear


Notes:

1. This letter dates to May 1, 1873. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman began the letter by acknowledging receipt of Walt Whitman's letter "this 1 of may." Richard Maurice Bucke inscribed the year 1873 on the letter surface, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:217, n. 74; 2:370). The year 1873 is consistent with Louisa's living in Camden, New Jersey, with Walt's payment for Edward Whitman's board, and with Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and daughters boarding with the Bulkley family after the February 1873 death of Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. [back]

2. See Walt Whitman's April 30, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Walt enclosed $15 and promised to send $5 more in his next letter. Walt paid George Washington Whitman and his wife Louisa Orr "Lou" Haslam Whitman $20 per month for his brother Edward Whitman's board. [back]

3. 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]

4. Walt Whitman's April 28, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. [back]

5. See Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's April 24, 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], 166–169).

Jeff Whitman (1833–1890) 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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had shared a home with Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman for several years before their departure to St. Louis. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

6. After Mattie Whitman's death in February 1873, Jeff Whitman and daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa began boarding at the home of Mary Moody and Philemon C. Bulkley. The remarks that follow—on Jeff's Kansas work, on boarding with the Bulkley's, and on Mr. Bulkley's potential visit to New York and to Washington to fetch Walt Whitman to St. Louis—are paraphrased from Jeff's letter. See Jeff's April 24, 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], 167). [back]

7. Thomas Jefferson Whitman acknowledged receipt of Walt Whitman's letter, which is not extant, in his May 9, 1873 letter to Walt. [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 eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

9. The Boston work is for Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917), who was the city engineer there from 1871 to 1880. Davis had worked with Jeff Whitman in Brooklyn, had joined Jeff in St. Louis, and had served a brief stint in Lowell, Massachusetts (1870–1871), before becoming the city engineer of Boston. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was also quite friendly with Davis, who had shared the Pacific Street home before Jeff's departure in 1867 and had stopped by her house in Brooklyn when working in Lowell (see Louisa's June 22, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). Davis completed his career at 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]

10. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. George Washington Whitman's original connection to Lane was through his brother Jeff Whitman: "jeff says as long as lane is in the [Brooklyn] water works georgey will be" (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's June 15 or 16, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). Lane resigned as Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works in 1869, and he soon became City Engineer of Milwaukee ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). Like Joseph P. Davis (above), Lane was loyal to George as a pipe inspector. The employment opportunity for George in Milwaukee that Walt mentioned in his January 23–24, 1872 letter to Louisa was probably with Lane. [back]

11. George Washington Whitman in March 1873 made at least two trips to Brooklyn to seek work inspecting pipe with a commissioner named Henry Adams, who is listed in a public call to property owners on the altering of water lines on Lee Avenue ("Notice," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 5, 1872, 1). See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 29, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

12. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had reported that George Washington Whitman in early 1873 was inspecting pipe for Moses Lane at the R. D. Wood Foundry sites in Camden and Florence, New Jersey, and at the Gloucester Iron-Works (see her March 23, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

13. 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]

14. Walt Whitman had enclosed a copy of the March 15, 1873 New York Daily Graphic, which featured his "The Singing Thrush", in his March 17, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. The tabloid newspaper was published from 1873 to 1889, and Louisa in her March 21, 1873 letter to Walt had remarked, "i like them very much i should think they would be a sucsess [sic]." [back]


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