Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [3 April 1873]

Date: April 3, 1873

Editorial note: The annotation, "Spring of 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.00630

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



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walter dear1

i2 got your letter to day and lillies and the graphic3 i wrote you a long letter on tuesday did you get it walter when you write say if you got it it was the 1 of april i wrote4 if you write to prissella or lillie or aunt sally her name is aunt sally mead aunt ph[oe?]be was named pintard5 she is dead years ago aunt sally is the only one left out of 8 sisters) priscilla has a sister named maggy trip6 you saw her to our house you must send your love to her also when you write i wish you would write to them walter this is my last envelope

walt did you ever hear of the galvanic battery for panalasis some thinks its very beneficial walt you say sometimes you are writing at your desk well i am writing this down stairs all alone i have been on my feet all day and now i can hardly walk i cooked the dinner and made a pie[s?] and made some cake i was very tired when i washed the dinner dshes) Lou7 and her aunt8 is up stairs waiting for the doctor to come) i am amused sometimes and sometimes i feel mad for instance this morning her aunt took up her breakfast on a waiter while i fried indian cakes9 and in a few minutes lou was down stairs —

sometimes george10 carries her up)11 its seems so different from what i have always had to go through) i should like to go to greenport if i can this summer i wrote to mary12 i though maybee i would come but i havent had a word from her since maybee she dident get my letter) write as often as you can walter dear and say if you got my letter of tuesday april i wrote13


Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 3, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter only to spring 1873. Edwin Haviland Miller dated it April 3?, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:210, n. 52; 2:370). Miller's date is correct. Walt Whitman enclosed a New York Graphic with his April 1–2, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Louisa's letter acknowledges Walt's letter and "the graphic," and she responds to Walt's query about the names of two sisters of his maternal grandmother. In Walt's April 4, 1873 reply to this letter, he acknowledged Louisa's suggestion on the "galvanic battery for panalasis [sic]" by conveying his conversations with his physician Dr. Drinkard. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's word "lillies" probably refers to a letter, i.e., Lillie's letter, that Walt Whitman enclosed from the cousin.

Louisa received Walt Whitman's April 1–2, 1873 letter. Walt enclosed a copy of the New York Daily Graphic, a tabloid newspaper published from 1873 to 1889. Walt published four poems in the periodical during March 1873, and he may have enclosed the March 24, 1873 issue, which included his poem "Spain," with his April 1–2, 1873 letter. [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 1, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman is not extant, but he acknowledged receiving her letter (see Walt's April 4, 1873 letter to Louisa). [back]

5. Priscilla or Lillie (Mead) Townsend was probably Walt Whitman's second cousin, the daughter of Sally (Williams) Mead, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's aunt. Priscilla's husband James H. Townsend was a clerk in the New York "Hall of Records." Sally (Williams) Mead and Phoebe (Williams) Pintard were sisters of Walt Whitman's maternal grandmother Naomi or Amy Williams (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:210, n. 52; Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 596). Louisa was responding to a question from Walt, "What is Aunt Sally's name—is it Sarah Pintard"? (see his April [1]–2, 1873 letter to Louisa). These letters from relatives were probably prompted by the report of Walt's stroke in the New York Herald (see Louisa's February 11–13, 1873 letter to Walt). [back]

6. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman appears to name Maggy/Maggie (Mead?) Tripp as Priscilla (Mead) Townsend's sister. Maggie Tripp is otherwise unknown. Walt also mentioned the letters he had received from relatives, including Maggie Tripp, Priscilla Townsend, and Sally Pintard, in his April 21, 1873 letter to Louisa. [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. The "aunt" who was engaged to assist Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, George Washington Whitman's wife, has not been identified but is probably named Elizabeth. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman described her daughter-in-law Louisa Orr's aunt as English and was not fond of the aunt's company. She is named "aunt Lib" and "aunt Libby" in Louisa's April 10–15, 1873 and April 21, 1873 letters to Walt. [back]

9. Nineteenth-century cookbooks name a wide variety of recipes Indian Cakes, usually to designate a pan-fried cake with a high proportion of finely ground corn meal or seeds to wheat flour. It is unlikely that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers to a pure cornmeal batter (called "johnnycakes" when fried) because George Washington Whitman returned from his imprisonment at Andersonville with a sample of "corn bread" as an oddity (see Louisa's March 5, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

10. 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]

11. The following week Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was more forthright about the possibility that Louisa Orr Haslam was pregnant, though Louisa Van Velsor Whitman doubted Louisa Orr was pregnant in fact. Her daughter-in-law, she wrote, is "in the family way they think so still," and she continued, "they wont let her hardly move yesterday she dident come down stairs all day monday)" (see Louisa's April 8, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). [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. The "letter of tuesday" refers to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 1, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. Her letter is not extant, but Walt acknowledged receipt of the letter (see his April 4, 1873 letter to Louisa). [back]


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