Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [11–14 November 1868]

Date: November 11–14, 1868

Editorial notes: The annotation, "Dear Mother Burlington," is in the hand of Hannah Heyde Whitman. An image of the verso of the leaf is not currently available. On the verso is Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's November 10, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman.

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.00340

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



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dear walt1

i2 dont want to worry you but i thought i would send you hanna s letter it is rather a strangely connected letter3 but god only knows what will be the end of her troubles i have got one from him one of his ranting ones4 i cant tell what an awful letter it is) i wish she could be got here if matty and jeff5 does go back she could take that room till spring) The erysiplus6 generally affects the head so i think probably she will be quite smart) as she gets strenght doo you think she gets your letters walter perhaps she does i was thinking maybee it would be as well to send her one to the care of Dr. Thayer7 as i suppose he has a box at the post office but doo as you think best walter dear) i am pretty well matty is about as usual Jeffy will come in a few weeks

dont be worried no more than you can help walter i know the nature of the disease george8 would get something in his head and worry as she does about9 the letter if heyd was kind to her she would get well

i wish you had went there walter when you was home10


Notes:

1. This letter has no date in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Edwin Haviland Miller dated it "after" November 10, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). The source of Miller's date is Hannah Heyde's November 10, 1868 letter, which appears on the verso of Louisa's letter. Because Louisa was generally prompt about forwarding letters to Walt Whitman, this letter dates to between November 11 and November 14, 1868. [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. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. The reason that Hannah's letter is "strangely connected" may be attributed to a thumb infection that led Doctor Samuel W. Thayer to lance her wrist in November 1868 and to amputate her thumb the following month (see Louisa's November 18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman; and see Charles L. Heyde's December 1868 letter to Louisa in Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225–226). [back]

4. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, in 1852, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt, and Hannah's thumb infection and the surgical amputation strained relations further. On March 24, 1868, she wrote, "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them." [back]

5. 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]

6. Erysipelas is contagious and has symptoms of fever accompanied by skin inflammation with a deep red color. It is also known by the name St. Anthony's fire. [back]

7. Samuel W. Thayer, a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School, performed surgeries in Burlington, Vermont during the 1860s. A serious thumb infection in late 1868 led Dr. Thayer to lance Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's wrist in November. In early December, he amputated Hannah's thumb. For Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's report to Walt Whitman on the initial surgery from a non-extant letter by Charles L. Heyde, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Walt inquired of Dr. Thayer with regard to Hannah's health on December 8, 1868[back]

8. 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]

9. The sentence continues in the right margin of the page. [back]

10. The sentence that follows is written inverted in the upper margin.

Walt had returned to Brooklyn in early September 1868 and returned in early November, a vacation that had included a visit to Providence, Rhode Island. [back]


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