Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 20 April 1863
Date: April 20, 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), 49-50. 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.00409
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert
Brooklyn, N. Y.
April 20th 1863
I was glad to hear—from your letter to mother—that you had received my letters—containing the $10. &c.1—Everything is all right with us,—the same as ever. Mary and Louisa2 are down with us. Came on Friday—will probably stay till Wednesday, down shopping They are all well. Ancel3 is down on the coast fishing. George4 is still on the cars. The rest are all the same.5 We have quite a joke on Mother which I bring forward almost every time she asks me if I have heard from you, which is everytime she sees me 'tis this. during the time that we were so long without hearing from you Mother really got very much worried about you and when I went home to dinner on the day before we got your letter, she asked me as usual if I had heard and when I told her no she said "well I cannot imagine what is the matter with Walt. I feel very much worried indeed. one thing is sure he is either sick or else he is coming home" You can readily imagine how mother looked when I poked fun at her and repeated it to her. She says that she didnt say it so it sounded like I say it, &c Dear Mother, she would be mighty glad to see [you] I know, but I love to plague her she will then take Hattie and say that sis is the only one of us that has got any sense, and if it wasnt for you and George she should not have much to live for &c, &c I hope you will be able to get me a copy of Capt. Mullens' report6 also I hope you will give him a letter to Mr Lane.7 I like to know such men I can learn from them. I spend quite a good deal of time lately with Dr Ruggles.8 He comes in the office quite often and I call at his house and see him. There are a good many things about him to like, I think and he seems to like me. I still continue to go to the Opera once in a while. To night is said to be the last night of the season but I hardly think that they will leave.9 it seems to me to be paying to well. The houses are generally full. We have not heard from Han since I wrote you last. Mother thinks that she will get Mary to go on for her pretty soon. I suppose it is best that Han should come home but I fear for Mother. I fear that she will undertake in her usual way to do too much I was awful mad at Heydes last letter. If I had been in his neighborhood I should certainly have booted him. He is a damn fool. Hattie is in first rate condition she reminds me more of a young colt or dog than a child. It seems to be perfect pleasure for her just to get out into the open air. She dont seem to care to go any where, only outdoors. Yesterday Mother locked the front basement door while she went to some other part of the house a moment—to keep Hattie in. Hattie went in the front basement and shoved the window and was out and away leaving her Opandmouth in amazement abt how she got out. But altogether she is as affectionate and good as it seems to me for a human being (and I dont suppose there is anything better) to be.10 Mattie sends her love.
1. See Edwin Haviland Miller, ed. The Correspondence (New York: New York University Press, 1961–77), 1:87. [back]
2. Born in 1845, Louisa was the third of five children of Jeff's sister Mary Whitman Van Nostrand (Katherine Molinoff, Some Notes on Whitman's Family, Monographs on Unpublished Whitman Material, no. 2 (Brooklyn: Comet Press, 1941), 4). [back]
3. Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, lived with his wife Mary in the whaling village of Greenport, Long Island. [back]
4. Born in 1841, George was the oldest of the Van Nostrand children. One supposes from Jeff's reference that the young George was a streetcar driver; later he would go into insurance (Molinoff, 4, n. 3). [back]
5. The other Van Nostrand children were Fanny (b. 1843) and Minnie (b. 1857). Another child, Ansel (b. 1847), died in infancy (Molinoff, 4, n. 3). [back]
6. Captain John Mullan (1830–1909), an army engineer, was associated with General Isaac I. Stevens in his surveys for a railroad route to the West (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]). When Whitman met Mullan, Mullan was about to publish his Report on the Construction of a Military Road From Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton (Washington, D.C.: Government Publications Office, 1863). In a notebook entry for April 1863 (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #76), Whitman referred to both of these reports. In a 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." A transcontinental railroad had long fascinated Whitman; he later wrote an editorial on the subject in 1858 while he was editor of the Brooklyn Daily Times (see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 213). Walt celebrated the completion of the railroad in his poem, "Passage to India." [back]
7. Moses Lane (1823–82) 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. For an earlier reference to the letter, see Jeff's letter to Walt from April 11, 1863. [back]
8. 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]
9. The New York Academy of Music had announced April 20, 1863, as the last night of its opera season but went on to produce at least six more operas with members of Maretzek's troupe, concluding on May 23. [back]
10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was considerably less charmed by Hattie's antics. Six months later, on Christmas Day 1863, she remarked to Walt, "i really think hattie is the worst child i ever had any thing to doo with" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]