Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [16 February 1869]

Date: February 16, 1869

Editorial note: The annotation, "18 Feb 69 Brooklyn," 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.00639

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



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tuesday1

I was so glad Walt to hear you was better of the distress in your head2 the carrier was later than usual and george3 came home to his dinner and said he saw a carrier in Bedford aven so i thought you was worse and the thoughts that run through my head in five minutes you wou[ld?] laughf if i told you george said if you was sick you would get somebody to write just then the bell rang and the letter man called out mrs Whitman then i thought how foolish i was to be worried before i knew any thing to be worried about)

i have had a letter from Heyde he says han4 is well except her hand he says she dont give it a chance to get well she sews and works they have got a french girl he says she is a dirty brute that is his expression and he shall change again i felt very glad even to hear from him) i think really han might write as i have requested her so much her right hand she could write a few lines anyhow i hope you wont have no more of those spels walter dear i got the letter and money all safe and very acceptable as i was rather short) georgey having parted with nearly all he had he expectded a draft from Jeff5 but it dident come he never had such difficuly in getting money before he is working now but he has tried all over to get a loan on smiths house6 but failed to get any lott7 has tried his best but failed) if Jeff dont send him the draft)8 he will have to raise it some how but I think very likely he will send it) O walt i am out of envelopes this is the last one i am as well as usual anna vanwyck and lib9 was to see me the other day

good bie
LW10


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 16, 1869. Only the day of the week, Tuesday, is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 18, 1869, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The subjects of the letter are consistent with February 1869, but Tuesday fell on February 16 in that year. The month February is consistent with early 1869 because the letter discusses the recovery of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's daughter Hannah Heyde from the amputation of her thumb in a December 1868 surgery. Also, Louisa's relief at Walt Whitman's recovery from "distress in [his] head" is consistent with symptoms that Walt had listed in an early February letter: he had described a "severe cold in my head" and "bad spells, dizziness" (see his February 2–8, 1869 letter to Louisa). Those descriptions of symptoms are from the portion of Walt's letter dated February 2, but the letter does not indicate a full recovery. Louisa's letter can date no earlier than February 9, and Walt's recovery was only partial by the weekend. According to the portion of that letter written on February 6 (Saturday), he had some relief from "bad spells" but no relief from "cold in the head." Therefore, Louisa probably responded to a later non-extant letter. February 16 is the earliest possible Tuesday on which Louisa could have responded to Walt's reported recovery. Louisa also wrote that George Washington Whitman had not received a bank draft and had "parted with nearly all he had." George's departure must have been recent because Louisa has not heard recently from him in her February 18, 1869 letter to Walt, which implies that George, who had been gone for several days, had not written. This letter very likely followed Walt's February 2–8, 1869 letter to Louisa and preceded Louisa's February 18, 1869 letter to Walt. [back]

2. Earlier in the month, Walt Whitman reported a "severe cold in my head" and "bad spells, dizziness" (see his February 2–8, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). Walt continued to describe symptoms of a severe cold in the portion of that letter written February 6 (Saturday), so Walt's full recovery probably dates to a later (non-extant) letter that Edwin Haviland Miller dated February 15, 1869 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361). [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. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. See Charles Heyde's December 1868 letter for the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225–226). Miller dated Charles's letter to "[a]bout December 8" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:72–73, n. 37). For the Whitman family's bitterness toward Charles and the stress that Hannah's health crisis introduced between Louisa and her son George Washington Whitman, see Horace Traubel, Wednesday, January 9, 1889, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:499–500. [back]

5. George Washington Whitman had probably departed to inspect pipe for Moses Lane, which he typically did in Camden or Florence, New Jersey. His brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman sent monthly drafts of $200 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's June 23, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

6. George Washington Whitman sought a loan on a house owned by his partner, a man known only as Smith. He was unable to get the loan and eventually sold the mortgage on Smith's house to his brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 17, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). Walt described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to John Burroughs). [back]

7. The Brooklyn Directory (1869) lists two Lotts as lawyers, Abraham and John Z., at 13 Willoughby Street. An agent named Lott is mentioned multiple times in financial matters concerning George Washington Whitman's speculative housebuilding business (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 17, 1869 and January 3–24?, 1871 letters to Walt Whitman). [back]

8. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman had agreed to lend his brother George Washington Whitman $2,000 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 4, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). Louisa also asked Walt to lend George $500, and Walt extended a loan to his brother (see Louisa's March 17, 1869 letter to Walt). The amount of the loans from Jeff later shifted as George agreed to Jeff's purchase of a mortgage. Louisa sought to provide a complete accounting for the series of loans in her June 23, 1869 letter to Walt. [back]

9. Anna Van Wycke had boarded with the Whitmans in Brooklyn, and her parents' farm was near Colyer farm, which had belonged to Jesse Whitman, Walt Whitman's paternal grandfather. See Bertha H. Funnel, Whitman on Long Island (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1971), 78. "Lib" was Anna Van Wycke's sister (see Anna's February 23, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress]). [back]

10. 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]


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