Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 August 1868

Date: August 23, 1868

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), 129-131. 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.00449

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

St. Louis,
August 23rd 1868

My dear Mother,

Having a half hour to spare I thought I could not better employ it than in writing you—We are getting along pretty well—Mattie has gained a great deal in the last week—although to-day she is not as well as she was a day or two ago yet she can go around without a cane—and without limping much—Hattie and Jessie are well as can be—Jessie is getting fat again—and Hattie looks remarkably well—indeed I think St Louis agrees with her if it dont with the rest of us1

Mat has got a pretty good girl now2—not the best—but good as they run—as soon as she can get around though and see to things herself I suppose matters will go better

Do you see or read anything about a toy called "Planchett"  There is an article in "Lippencotts" Mag for August on it3—Davis4 bought one a few days ago and we tried it but it woul'd[nt] go for us at all—Yesterday a little daughter of a neighbor came in and Mattie and she tried it and it commenced to write answers to all questions like the devil—The thing is a little piece of black walnut abt 7" by 8"—heart shaped and abt ¼" thick

with two little wheels and a hole in front in which you stick a pencil.

 —you lay a sheet of paper on a table and set this thing on it and then sit down and put the tips of your fingers on the top of the wood—in a few minutes the wheels begin to roll and the pencil to mark on the paper—then you ask questions and the "toy" will write answers  I went home last evening and found that they were all in a high state of excitement from the fact that they (Mat and this little girl) had got it going and lots of questions answered—Mat asked it if you would come out and see us this fall and it wrote "Doubtful" (it makes a flourish like this at the end of every sentence)5  To a question of who would be next President it wrote "Grant"—then they asked it why Grant would be President and it wrote "Because"—lots of other questions were answered in the same way—you would laugh to see the excitement and expectancy when an answer's abt half written

I had a letter from McNamee6 a few days ago—he told me that George had been sent down to Florence7 for a short time—has he returned yet—I was glad that the draft came all right—and by the way is that car stable yet on the lots opposite my lot in Flatbush avenue—tell George to look when he goes in that neighborhood  If they should clear that out I dont know but what it would be a good idea to build on that lot one of these days

Mat will write you soon—everything is going abt the same as usual with us—I dont ever hear from Walt—I suppose he is well however—has he been home lately—Love to George Ed and all—write when you can—affectionately



1. Interestingly, the water of St. Louis bothered the Jefferson Whitmans. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman reported to Walt Whitman that "the water dont agree with them  in the morning when they first get up they often all vomit at once" (February 12, 1868 [Trent Collection, William R. Perkins Library, Duke University]). [back]

2. Mattie had already informed Louisa Van Velsor Whitman on August 4 that she had to discharge her "darkey": "she got so lazy she was worse then nobody. last thursday I got another girl (a white one this time)" (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], p. 56). [back]

3. "My Acquaintance with Planchette," Lippincott's Magazine, 1 (1868), 217-18. Jeff accurately describes the appearance and operation of this early psychic instrument, which was invented about 1855 and later used without a pencil as the pointer on the ouija board. Jeff's two sketches are reproduced about full-size. [back]

4. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 22 September 1863[back]

5. Jeff's transcriptions of the planchette's writing all end with a terminal line encircling the entire word. [back]

6. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 21 December 1866[back]

7. Florence, New Jersey, where George went to inspect iron pipes at the R. D. Woods foundry. In November 1868 he became pipe inspector at a foundry in Camden, New Jersey (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967], p. 404). [back]


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