Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to George Washington and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 October [1872]

Date: October 23, 1872

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:187. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Walt Whitman House, Camden, New Jersey

Whitman Archive ID: wwh.00010

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




Washington
Oct. 23.

Dear brother George1,

Dont be alarmed—& don't laugh either—at seeing the enclosed "will."2 I wish you to put it away with your papers, where it will be kept safe—I just took a notion to-day that I would like to fix it so—

Dearest Mother3,

I shan't come on till Monday next, 28th—but shall be with [you] then—think of coming in the 1 o'clock train from here—shall get to Camden by or before 8—I am well as usual—nothing new—

I have sent George my will to take charge of—I am writing this in the office, afternoon—we are having a dark rainy day here.

Love to you, dearest mother, & to Lou4 & all—
Walt.


Notes:

1. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted 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). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for several years in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. In this will, dated October 23, 1872, Walt Whitman bequeathed to his mother, or in the event of her death, to George, as trustee for his brother Edward, all his personal property (more than $1,000 in a Brooklyn bank), the amounts due from the sale of his books by Redfield, and the stereotype plates of his books in the possession of S. W. Green. Bucke's copy of this will is in the The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. A second will was drawn on May 16, 1873; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 82. [back]

3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

4. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Walt lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Walt had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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