Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 2–8 February [1869]

Date: February 2–8, 1869

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:78–79. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00289

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Attorney General's Office,
18 Tuesday, 2d Feb.—

Dearest mother—

I am still troubled with a severe cold in my head—I suppose it is that which causes me to have these bad spells, dizziness in the head—I have them a great deal lately; sometimes three or four in an hour1

The 20 per cent bill came up again in Congress yesterday, & was rejected again2—I don't think there is much chance for it—It looks as though we are going to have snow—feels cold & raw—I am sitting at my desk in the office writing this—there is not much to do to-day in the office—

Wednesday afternoon.

It commenced snowing yesterday noon, & stormed all day, & a rain at night—I have been out to-day—not any work hardly in the office—still I have to be around—it is a dark & muddy day here—a young man has just been in with a photograph of me—his mother had bought it at a place here, & sent it to me for me to write my name—I gratified him—They have taken a very good little photo of me here lately3—I will send you one before long—It is now three o'clock, & the colored man has commenced to clean up—so I will vamose—

Great excitement here among the politicians—Cant tell who will be the new Attorney General under Grant—but don't think Mr. Evarts4 will continue on—still I don't know—

Saturday forenoon. Feb. 6th.

Mother, your letter has just come this forenoon—You must not worry about Han5—one can't tell any thing about it—but it is probable things go on with them just as they always did—I believe I shall write to Han again—shall not say any thing about Heyde, of course—

We have had a cold snap here—but this forenoon it is very pleasant, bright, & comfortable enough—I did not have any bad spells in the head yesterday—nor, so far, to-day—My cold in the head has been extremely bad, & is not well yet—Went up to Ashton's6 Thursday evening to spend the evening with some company—had supper about 9 o'clock.

I get along pretty well at the old boarding house—I suppose it is about as well as I could do any where—I make a fire these cold mornings, to wash & dress by—it has been very cold lately—

Monday forenoon Feb. 8.

Well, mother, I will finish my letter & send it off—I thought to send it yesterday, Sunday, but did not come down to the office. All goes on the same with me—it is now about 11 oclock, and very pleasant—I am rather busy to-day with work in the office—but nothing to hurt—I have had a present of the most beautiful red rose you ever see—I have put it in a little glass of water, on my desk—Love to you, dearest mother, & George & all.7


one of the 50cts is for Ed.


1. Evidently Walt Whitman had written of his "bad spells" in an earlier (lost) letter, for on February 4, 1869, his mother wrote: "i was sorry, Walter, you have them bad spells with your head. it must be very bad indeed, there is a kind of linement called cloroform linement. it dont affect one in the least, that is to stupify, but it is thought to be good for the neuralghy and rheumatism." An entry in an address book (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #109) would indicate that he went in January to Dr. Charles H. Bowen, a Washington physician mentioned in Whitman's May 30, 1867 letter to Hiram Sholes. [back]

2. A new bill intended to raise the salaries of governmental clerks by ten per cent (substituted for the "20 per cent bill") was defeated in the House of Representatives on February 1, 1869. On the following day the New York Times commented: "The clerks were at it once more to-day." [back]

3. A "capital photo" taken by Alexander Gardner was mentioned in the Washington Star on January 18, 1869. [back]

4. William Maxwell Evarts (1818–1901) was chief counsel for Andrew Johnson during the impeachment trial of 1868. As a reward for his services, Johnson appointed Evarts Attorney General later in the year; Evarts was Secretary of State from 1877 to 1881 and U.S. Senator from New York from 1885 to 1891. [back]

5. On February 4, 1869, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman complained about Hannah's failure to write to her: "sometimes i get so worried about her that it makes me quite unhappy." [back]

6. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs, and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]

7. During the spring George was building houses in Brooklyn and, because of the tight money situation, was having trouble arranging construction loans. Jeff advanced $3,000, for which he was to receive a mortgage, and on March 15, 1869, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman asked Walt Whitman to lend George $600. Though no correspondence on the subject between Walt Whitman and his family is extant, Jeff's letter of March 25, 1869 confirms the fact that Walt Whitman assisted his brother, and on December 7, 1869, December 7, 1869 Louisa Van Velsor Whitman informed Walt Whitman that George was repaying $200.

During 1869 the lot of the Whitmans underwent no changes. Heyde still wrote nasty letters, and Hannah promised, when she got around to writing, a visit to Brooklyn. Martha's health did not improve markedly. Though George provided a new home for his mother, she complained that "these gals and amusements takes the greenbacks" (Summer, The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). Mary Van Nostrand in October moved in "bag and baggage" with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Evidently Ansel Van Nostrand failed in business, Louisa wrote on October 19, 1869, "got a drinking," and "come near dying with the deleru tremen ." Walt remained "the same good old standby." (Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, June 30, 1869.) [back]


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