Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 30 [May 1869]

Date: May 30, 1869

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 Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00171

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Heather Kaley, Wesley Raabe, Elizabeth Lorang, and Nicole Gray



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M 30 evening1

My dear Walt

all alone

i receives your kind letter this morning i was glad to hear from you glad you had a good visit i was fearful you dident have quite as good a time as i wanted you to have we cant be quite as free to talk when any one is present as if we were alone) but if the visit done peter2 good it dident doo us any particular harm) well walt as you say sometimes in your letters things goes on about the same with me as usual only i have been rather lamer than usual

i beleeve i am worse when i stay in all the time than when i go out i beleive i shall try to go out to morrow if its pleasant i feel the need of going out a little i thought i would not be away if mr Oconor3 should call but he has not so i think he has returned to washington )

walter dear you needent send me harpers4 as i procured it the other night

hellen price5 was here and spent the day or it was rather late when she came nearly noon but she staid till nearly evening last saturday Emily is married about two or three weeks ago6 they board with mrs price but are going to houskeeping mrs price has not been well but has got better except a coughf ellen had a letter from Clapp7 wishing to know if you was in washington as there was nobody out of his own family that he thought so much of as you that he had written to you but had got no answer he has been to new yor[k?]8 and put up at [lessey?] farlands9 i believe thats name and she gave him cloths to make him desent and there has been a collection to get him paper and materials to write hellen said he was tipsey nearly all the time10 he was in new york he wrote to hellen she had the letter here he was never so glad to get back out of new york that all was changed) george11 will be home next saturday i expect Jeff and all are about the same12

good bie walter dear


Correspondent:
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)."

Notes:

1. This letter dates to May 30, 1869. The executors did not mark this letter with a date, and Edwin Haviland Miller did not list it in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). Based on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's belief that Emily Price had married recently, this letter dates to the year 1869. The month, May, can be inferred from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter "M" and her April 7, 1869 letter: "i suppose you know Emily price is going to get married." However, the date of Emily Price's marriage is not certain. In her July 14, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, Louisa wrote, "i beleive they think emmily [Price] will be married this fall." That later letter cannot be easily reconciled with this one, but perhaps the marriage was delayed several months without Louisa's being aware of the postponement. Despite that complicating difficulty, this letter's date in May corresponds to the appointment of a new Brooklyn Water Board. [back]

2. Walt befriended Peter Doyle (1843–1907), a horsecar conductor in Washington, around 1865. Though Whitman informed Doyle of his flirtations with women in their correspondence, Martin G. Murray affirms that "Whitman and Doyle were 'lovers' in the contemporary sense of the word." Doyle assisted in caring for Whitman after his stroke in January 1873. See Murray, "Pete the Great: A Biography of Peter Doyle." [back]

3. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's "harpers" refers either to Harper's Monthly or to Harper's Weekly. The former, designed to promote Harper and Brothers' reprints of British novels, debuted during the summer of 1850 and began publishing poems by Whitman in 1874. The latter, Harper's Weekly, debuted in 1857. Walt Whitman's poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" appeared in the September 28, 1861 issue of the newspaper, and two poems by Whitman were first published in the periodical in the 1880s. Though designed like its sister monthly to promote British reprints, Harper's Weekly was notable for its Civil War coverage and began publishing American writers in the ensuing decades. [back]

5. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

6. Emily "Emma" Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. The date of her marriage is difficult to determine. According to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, Emily was expected to marry a man named Law, an "artist in the cheap picture line." This letter seems to confirm her marriage in late April or early May 1869. She married a man named Edward Law (b. 1844?), an engraver (see United States Census. 1880., New York. Brooklyn, Kings). However, another letter from summer 1869 states that "emmily will be married this fall" (see Louisa's July 14, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers to Henry Clapp, Jr., (1814–1875), one of Walt Whitman's close friends and a leading figure among the bohemians with whom Whitman gathered at the Pfaff's restaurant and beer cellar in lower Manhattan. Clapp was the editor of a short-lived but influential literary weekly, the New-York Saturday Press. For an extended profile of Clapp, see Vault at Pfaffs: An Archive of Art and Literature by New York City's Nineteenth-Century Bohemians, ed., Edward Whitley. [back]

8. Only the first three letters of the word "york" are visible in the image. The letter is pasted into a manuscript book, and the final letters on the edge closest to the binding in the page image are often obscured. Most of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman manuscript letters in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, held at the Harry Ransom Center, have obscured text on at least one page. Text from this page was recorded based on an examination of the physical volume, which allowed more text to be recovered. [back]

9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote "i beleive thats name" in reference to "lessee farlands." The word "lessee" may be a name, but it could also refer to the proprietor of the boarding house. The Brooklyn Directory (1871) lists two close names that may be boarding houses, a widow Ann Farlan and a clerk Matthew Farlands, and the directory lists thirty-five surnames from "McFarlan" through "McFarlane." The term "lessee" usually refers to the tenant, but Thomas Gunn Butler also used it to refer to a proprietor, which may indicate its currency to refer to tenants in Brooklyn slang (The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses [New York: Mason, 1854], 117). In another letter about Clapp in connection with Helen Price, Louisa wrote that he was at or going to "falanks, Jersey" (see her December 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

10. Walt Whitman said of Clapp, "Poor fellow, he died in the gutter—drink—drink—took him down, down" (Horace Traubel, Wednesday, July 8, 1891, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 1961], 8:312). [back]

11. 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]

12. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]


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