Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 7 February [1873]

Date: February 7, 1873

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:195–196. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00408

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




Friday afternoon—Feb. 7
½ past 2

Dearest mother1,

I am still anchored here—sit up some, but only for a short spell at a time—am feeble, and have distress in the head—these are the worst features—but am gradually regaining the use of my left limbs—very, very slowly, but certainly gaining—Doctor only comes now every other day—

As I write Mrs. O'Connor2 is sitting here in the room, mending some stockings &c for me—she has brought me some nice roast apple in a tumbler—It is a dark wet day to-day—not very favorable—

Mother dear, I rec'd your letter, acknowledging the money—I have written a short letter to Hannah3, & also one to Jeff4—which they must have rec'd by this time—

I keep up my spirits very well—do not need for any thing—Love to you, & all, dearest mother,


Walt.

I have tacked your picture up on the wall at the foot of the bed—the one I like—it looks as natural as can be—& is quite company for me—as I am alone a good deal, (& prefer to be)—


Notes:

1. 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]

2. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. 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 Douglas 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. In 1872 Whitman and William strongly disagreed on the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William moved out. 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]

3. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), youngest sister of Walt Whitman, married Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Hannah and Charles Heyde lived in Burlington, Vermont. For more, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Matty) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]


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