Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 23 February [1870]

Date: February 23, 1870

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.00174

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



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febuary 231

My dear walt

i2 have just got your letter and was glad to hear from you and received the papers on saturday) dont be frightend but Jeff and matty3 is both here matty has been here a week to day Jeff had to come to pittsburgh and stay a day or two and matt came on from there alone she is better than i expected to see her they left the children at home with her girl and davis4 Jeffy is going back next week as davis has got an appointment at lowel and Jeff has come on but has to return before davis leaves)5 but matty will return by the way off washington sure about the 9th or 10th of march i will write particular6 the day before she comes george7 will be home on saturday the weather has been extremely col[d?] i am pretty well only lame as usual) walt get your new cloths done if you can before matt comes she will come week after next certain) has mrs benedict8 a room she could accomadate her with for a few days she will visit the masons9 and mrs Oconor)10

good bie dear walt

matty says she feels better than she did before sh[e?] came from home Jeff is floureshing


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 23, 1870. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter February 23 but did not provide a year. Edwin Haviland Miller did not cite the letter in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The letter dates to the year 1870 based on Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's presence in Brooklyn, her intent to travel to Washington, D.C., and Joseph Phineas Davis's plan to visit Lowell, Massachusetts (see Mattie's February 27, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

2. 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)." [back]

3. 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]

4. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

5. During Mattie Whitman's February 1870 visit to Brooklyn, Joseph Phineas Davis decided to depart St. Louis and take a position at Lowell, Massachusetts (see Mattie's February 27, 1870 letter to Walt in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 68). Davis's decision to take the position at Lowell caused Jeff Whitman to depart Brooklyn earlier than he had planned. [back]

6. No "s" in "particulars" is visible on the image nor can its presence be confirmed based on the manuscript. 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]

7. 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]

8. Walt Whitman roomed at Mrs. Benedict's house in Washington, D.C. In his February 12, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, he stated "I moved to-day back again to the same house Mrs. Grayson used to live in—it is now occupied by a Mr. & Mrs. Benedict." [back]

9. George F. Mason was a prominent Pennsylvania businessman and state senator, with whom Mattie Whitman stayed after selling her furniture in preparation for the trip to St. Louis in 1867. Mason's daughter Irene was a close friend of Mattie (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 3, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman; Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 37, 42). Gordon's son Julius "Jules" Mason (1835–1882) was a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry. Jeff Whitman wrote that Mason "used to be in my party on the Water Works" (see his February 10, 1863 letter to Walt). Jules Mason helped to get supplies to George Washington Whitman when he was held prisoner (see Jeff's February 7, 1865 letter to Walt). [back]

10. 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]


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