Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 11 April 1863

Date: April 11, 1863

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 45-48. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00407

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

Brooklyn, N. Y.
April 11th 1863

Dear Walt,

The two books you sent me (also one to Mr Lane)1 came all right. I am extremely obliged to you for it all and shall, Oliver Twist like, ask for more.2 I should dearly love to get together a set of the Pacific R. R. Explorations and Reports and intend to do so. I hope you will be able to send me some of the other Vols. I told you that I had written to Boston for a Report on the Hoosac Tunnel,3 that also has come and I have already found it of great use to me in solving two or three questions that I was not up in. I believe that the best information about Engn'ring is to be got out of reports of this character. I shall, as you suggest keep a sharp lookout for Vol. 124 and shall buy it if I come across it. If you, in looking around the second hand book stalls, see any Engnring works please write me what they are and the price. I am very much in want of a copy of "Wisbachs Mechanics"5 but cannot meet with it in New York. I have been quite disappointed in not getting a letter from you to-day. I certainly thought I should. I sent you a letter on Tuesday last with the $10 from Van Anden6 and a letter from Han and one from George also a long one from me—6cts worth—I hope you received it  The things by Express came all right. George's bundle was 6/ and the last $1.00. Hattie has got entirely over her fall7 and is as healthy as a child can be, she is growing finely. I am sure twould please you to see her, she is as smart as can be, talks perfectly plain, without the least babyishness. Just below us in the same street there is a young lady from down east, she comes in to see Mat every day or two. she talks in the down east fashion, saying "cant" as if it was made of rrs. the other day she said so before sis. Sissy says "Why dont you say cant, thats no way to talk, carnt" which quite took our young lady aback. And yesterday one of the Hearkness8 children was in our rooms and they were talking about rolling their hoops. one told sis—4½ yrs old—that she had rolled her hoop down the "teet"  sis says "I rolled mine down the street  thats the way to say it"9  She often wonders when you are coming home to take her out and show her the ships and steamboats. Mat is first rate and well, she has no work and consequently is living quite like a Christian. we often talk about you and wonder how you are getting along  Mat often speaks about how she should have felt if she had gone with you. How much better it was that she did not, wasnt it.10 Mother is quite well and a little worried about not hearing from you and George  I feel quite concerned about Andrew  I have had Ruggles11 see him twice now  Ruggles says that he has a bad, very bad throat and about the only thing that will cure him will be his going away from the coast back in the interior somewhere  He says that it is hardly possible to give any medicine for such a complaint and the more one takes the worse he is off. However he says if Andrew takes the right care of himself he may recover here.12 I wish he could get something to do away from here, back in the interior. I have great faith in that for diseases of the kind like his. I will write you every day or two and keep you posted how he is. I should be glad to have you give the Capt Mullen13 you spoke of a letter to Mr Lane, very glad indeed. I like to become acquainted with such men, It is education to me and I find I am in need of a great quantity of that article. by all means, if he has not left, give him a letter to Mr Lane. Well Walt, I will, after wishing you pleasure and success, bid you good night

affectionately Jeff.


1. Presumably two volumes of the Pacific Railroad reports (see Jeff's letter to Walt from April 2, 1863). 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. Like Jeff, he collected money from his employees and friends to give to Walt's hospital efforts during the Civil War. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. Similarly, Lane sent dollar contributions from six individuals on May 2, 1863. In an unpublished manuscript in the Berg Collection, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane also assisted Whitman in other ways. He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." [back]

2. See Jeff's March 3, 1863, letter to Walt. [back]

3. It is not known which of the many reports on this tunnel Jeff read. He would have been interested in the improved surveying techniques Thomas Doane developed for this project, a 4¾-mile railroad tunnel under Hoosac Mountain in northwestern Massachusetts under construction from 1855 through 1876). [back]

4. Volume XII of the Pacific Railroad Reports, Isaac I. Stevens, U.S. Topographical Bureau, Report of Exploration of a Route for the Pacific Railroad Near the 47th and 49th Parallels From St. Paul to Puget Sound (Washington, D.C.: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1860). This was issued in two parts as a supplement to Volume I. [back]

5. The popular English title for Julius Weisbach's Lehrbuch der Ingenieur- und Maschinen-Mechanik (1845). A standard enginering text widely reprinted after 1869, it was available to Jeff as Principles of Mechanics of Machinery and Engineering, ed. Walter R. Johnson, 2nd ed., 2 vols (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1858–59). [back]

6. Isaac Van Anden was the publisher and proprietor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle[back]

7. See Jeff's letter to Walt dated April 2, 1863[back]

8. Two men named George Harkness—one a bookbinder and the other a carpenter—lived on Portland Avenue near Myrtle. No "Hearkness" appeared in Brooklyn directories at that time. [back]

9. Although Walt Whitman "was real amused with sis's remarks," he warned the family that "it is not good to enourage a child to be too sharp" (see Walt's letter to his mother from April 15, 1863[back]

10. When the Whitman family read that George had been wounded, both Mattie and Walt planned to go help him. By not going, Mattie avoided the difficulties that Walt experienced. See Jeff's letter to Walt from January 1, 1863[back]

11. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Jeff and Mattie. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85; 330). [back]

12. In his letter instructing Jeff on how to raise Hattie, Walt also offered a detailed explanation of how Andrew should care for his throat. Surprisingly, his brothers show no signs of resenting this instruction. Walt seems to have been able to combine the roles of the prophetic, all-knowing poet and the dominant, wise family head. [back]

13. Captain John Mullan (1830–1909), an army engineer, had just published for the U.S. Topographical Bureau his Report on the Construction of a Military Road From Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton (Washington, D.C.: Government Publications Office, 1863). Because Jeff and Walt were both fascinatd by the prospect of a western railroad, they would have admired Mullan's work described in Volume XII of the Pacific Railroad reports (see note 4 above). In his letter to his mother from March 31, 1863, Walt had praised "Capt. Mullin, U.S. Army (engineer), who has been six years out in the Rocky Mt's, making a gov't road, 650 miles from Ft. Benton to Walla Walla—very, very interesting to know such men intimately, and talk freely with them." Apparently Jeff wanted Walt to write a letter to Mr. Lane concerning Captain Mullan (see also Jeff's letter to Walt from April 20, 1863). [back]


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