Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [15–19 December 1868]

Date: December 15–19, 1868

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.00635

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



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My dear Walt1

although i2 have had a pretty hard day yet i felt as if i wanted to write a line before i went to bed although i am very tired indeed well Walt Jeffy and matty3 has started to night for st lou is they are to stop to pittsburgh for a day and a night matty was about the same she cant doo much as soon as she does any thing in the way of housework she vomits up all she eats she is far from well but the doctor speaks encouragely of her but O walt haint i had a seige they pretended to live up stairs but the provitions was prepared down well Walter dear i have lived through it) but some things i have thought rather hard of they have never paid a cent of rent nor a cent of gass bill nor give me a dollar when they went away they gave me an allapacca dress when they first came and Jeff bought me a little mite of a castor that is all about three weeks ago george4 bought 20lb of butter and they have used out off it ever since and matty borrow[ed?] 50 dollars of george but jeffy dident settle it) they had plenty of money as jeffy drawed that out off the bank i did really think they had ought to give me some but let evey thing go but i would ask more than 100 [dl?] to go through the same again)5

burn this letter

well walt i dont hear any more from heyde6 the letter i sent to you was the last i got poor han7 i feel very bad about her its hard to know what to doo as heyde seems to be determined none of the family shall come on there i got your letter walter dear with the doctors on tuesday all right

Dr enos is dead i suppose you [s?]ee in the papers very suddenly8

my love to all the Oconors9 and keep a share for yourself

george has commenced his house they are digging the cellar


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between December 15 and 19, 1868; the earlier dates are somewhat more probable. Richard Maurice Bucke, on an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here), dated this letter mid-December 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller assigned the date December 14? (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Based on the letter's reference to the death of DeWitt C. Enos, a Brooklyn physician, which the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on December 15, the date range for the letter can be narrowed to a range shortly after Enos's death, though probably not as early as that proposed by Miller. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman tended to share Brooklyn news with Walt Whitman promptly, so it is unlikely that the letter dates to more than three or four days after the December 15 report of Enos's death. Randall H. Waldron also assigned "mid-December" as the date for the departure of Thomas Jefferson Whitman and family to St. Louis, though Waldron's date may rely in part on Miller's date (Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 60). [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. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," 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. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [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 eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman complains, but her complaint has an element of bitter humor that would have been recognizable to her son Walt Whitman. The $100 amount is an echo of Mattie Whitman's complaint from a little over a month earlier: Jeff Whitman's check from the Metropolitan Board of Health was $100 short of the amount that Mattie had anticipated (see Louisa's November 4?, 1868 letter to Walt). Even if one finds sardonic humor in Louisa's echo of the amount that frustrated Mattie, her complaint over Jeff and Mattie's spendthrift ways reflects her recognition that she lived in comparative poverty. From her perspective, Jeff's earnings at the St. Louis Water Works were beyond comprehension: "mr lane told george they had raised Jeffs salary to 6000 but i think it must be a mistake" (see her May 5, 1868 letter to Walt). [back]

6. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Charles was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

7. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde, a landscape painter. Hannah in November had suffered a serious thumb infection that led Dr. Samuel Thayer to lance her wrist. In early December, Thayer amputated Hannah's thumb. For Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's report on the initial surgery from a non-extant letter by Charles L. Heyde, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. For the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb, see Charles Heyde's early December letter to Louisa (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225). Edwin Haviland Miller dated Charles Heyde's letter to "[a]bout December 8" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:73, n. 37). [back]

8. See "The Sudden Death of Dr. DeWitt C. Enos" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 15, 1868, 2). Walt Whitman had attempted to consult Enos on Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's throat condition. Satisfied after a meeting with Dr. A. C. Wilson, he decided not to consult Enos (see Walt's October 25, 1868 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman). According to Enos's death notice, he was aged 45 years, resided at Clinton Street near Fulton Avenue, graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, and had served both as a visiting surgeon in the City Hospital and as a professor of anatomy in the Long Island College Hospital. [back]

9. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]


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