Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 17 February [1873]

Date: February 17, 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), 2:198–199. 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.00412

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




Monday afternoon—Feb. 17
½ past 3

Dearest mother1,

I have been down stairs, & out on the street this afternoon—it is such fine weather, (after the bad storm of yesterday)—I got along very slowly, & didn't go far—but it was a great thing after being kept in for over three weeks—

I rec'd a short letter from Jeff2 again to-day, dated 13th3—nothing different with Mat4—I rec'd your letter Saturday—I hope now to improve in walking—& then I shall begin to feel all right—(but am still very feeble & slow)—Peter Doyle & another friend accompanied me out—

Dear Mother, I hope this will find you feeling well—Love to all—


Walt.


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. 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]

3. Jeff's letter to Walt Whitman is not extant, but on the same day he wrote to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman: Martha "is cheerful and brave—nothing can make her despondent in the shape of personal suffering—and I do not allow her to suffer from any feeling that we feel mournful or despondent" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 1873) known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. [back]


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