Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [3–24 January 1871]

Date: January 3–24?, 1871

Editorial note: The annotation, "10 Jan 1871," 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.00634

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



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tuesday afternoon1

well walter dear

how are you by this time i2 got your letter on saturday we are all about the same we have had very cold weather here indeed george3 came home again last saturday night he had to come to see about the property he sold to mrs stears as there is assesments found against the property4 and Lott5 wrote to him to see to it immediately so he came on so much for mr greenwood s search 6 and when stears bought it he had Lott to make a searsh i gess they dident searsh very deep george went back this morning by th 7 oclock train he left it for Lott to settle against he come again it will be considerable to pay) mrs stears was here the other day she dont seem to get along very well her son is discharged from the water board7 with many others there is very many out of employment this winter8 george says any time that its conveinent for you walt to pay that money you had of him he aint in a hury for it if you come on in febuary9 that will be time enoughf or after that) i sent han10 the letter i spoke of when george was home before and the 5 dollar he gave me for her) and to day i received one of mr Heydes epistles rather the worst one i have received yet i looked it over and threw it in the stove the most insulting but let it go)

i have not heard any thing more from maty11 whether she is coming or not the weather is so cold it will bee quite an undertaking to come so far)

i am about as usual quite smart only i got up so early to get georges breakfast that i feel stupid enoughf)

i hope this will find you well walter dear


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between January 3 and January 24, 1871. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter January 10, 1871, which fell on a Tuesday. Edwin Haviland Miller dated no letter to January 1871 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). Bucke's date cannot be confirmed, but many contextual clues suggest it is possible: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman asked Walt whether he would visit in February. The son of Louisa's former neighbor Margret Steers had lost a position with the Brooklyn Water Board, and Louisa says Steers's son was discharged "with many others." That remark is consistent with mass layoffs at the Brooklyn Water Works in late 1870 and early 1871. Also, Louisa did not know when her daughter-in-law Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman would visit. Though the exact date of Mattie's arrival in Brooklyn is not known, Louisa began to expect her in early February—though her arrival was delayed until late February. Because Brooklyn Water Works employee layoffs were widely reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in December and because the expected visits of Mattie and of Walt are discussed as if some distance in the future, January 10, 1871 is a probable date. However, no evidence in the letter provides exact confirmation. Therefore, the letter is assigned a range of dates that is consistent with its subjects, to Tuesdays from January 3 to January 24, 1871. [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. 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]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had mentioned briefly the property that George Washington Whitman intended to sell (and now had sold) to Margret Steers more than a year earlier (see Louisa's June 23, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman).

Louisa had known the Steers family about three years. Margret and husband Thomas Steers (1826–1869) and their four children Thomas (b. 1853), Caroline (b. 1857), Louisa (b. 1862), and Margret (b. 1865) moved into the Atlantic Avenue building in which Louisa was boarding in November 1868. Thomas Steers operated a bakery, and his wife, who would become a close friend of Louisa, continued the business when he died in January 1869. After Thomas Steers's sudden death, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman replied to a non-extant early 1869 letter from Louisa with concern that "Mr. Steers' death had quite an effect on you" (see Mattie's February? 1869 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 67; Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 4, 1868 letter to Walt; "Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1869, 3; and United States Census, 1870, New York, Brooklyn Ward 7, Kings). [back]

5. The Brooklyn Directory (1871) lists two Lotts as lawyers, Abraham and John Z., at 13 Willoughby Street. A man named Lott is mentioned previously on matters concerning George Washington Whitman's speculative housebuilding business (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 17, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

6. The Brooklyn Directory (1871) lists two Greenwoods as lawyers, John and Joseph, at Montague and Remsen Streets. Another Greenwood, John E., is listed as an agent and located at Halsey and Tompkins Avenue. [back]

7. The son of Margret Steers is named Thomas, and he is presumably a laborer or inspector who has lost his position for the Brooklyn Water Works during its mass layoffs. [back]

8. William A. Fowler, President of the Brooklyn Water Board, began discharging employees with mass layoffs in November 1870 and anticipated continuing a series of employee purges: 100 on November 1, 150 on November 15, 200 on December 1, and more in January ("Two Hundred Men Discharged To-Day," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 2, 1870, 4). Brooklyn Mayor Martin Kalbleisch blamed the proliferation of community boards, including the Water Board, whose street improvements included paving and lighting, for extravagant expenditures ("The Mayor's Message," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 4, 1871, 2). The newspaper, though careful to express some sympathy for released workers, lauded the new emphasis on discharging employees and the promise of reduced property taxes ("The Eagle and Local Taxation. What is Said of its Course. Leading Men of All Parties Stand by the Eagle," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 2, 1870, 2). [back]

9. Walt Whitman's visit, planned for February (according to this letter), is difficult to date precisely. However, he may have made a brief visit in late February, March, or April near the marriage of George Washington Whitman to Louisa Orr Haslam. The family of Thomas Jefferson Whitman also visited. Walt took his summer vacation in June (see Walt's June 21, 1871 letter to Peter Doyle). [back]

10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

11. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. No letter from Jeff or Mattie from this period, December 1870 to February 1871, is extant. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman probably expected Mattie to report her plans for a visit that was anticipated to begin in early February but was delayed (see Louisa's February 9, 1871 letter to Walt). 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. Mattie experienced a throat ailment that led to her death in February 1873. 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. [back]


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