Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)
Author:
Wolfe, Karen
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Walt Whitman's sister-in-law, Louisa, married George Washington Whitman in 1871, and moved with him to Camden in 1872. Whitman moved to Camden to live with the couple in 1873, and remained until 1884, when they bought a farm in Burlington County. Louisa also cared for Mrs. Whitman and Edward Whitman in Camden. Louisa was named executrix to Whitman's will. She also approved the autopsy performed on Whitman, despite the objections of Mrs. Mary Oakes Davis, Whitman's housekeeper.

Whitman appears to have been somewhat ambivalent about Lou, as he addressed her. She is usually mentioned in letters to friends and family as being "well" or "well as usual." As the wife of George, who "believes in pipes, not poems" (Traubel 1:227), Louisa was probably also somewhat business-minded, or if not, at least not poetically inclined. There are seven extant letters from Louisa to Whitman (see index in Correspondence). Louisa appears to be rather plain, though genuine and loving, and above all capable of being entrusted with Whitman's estate.

Whitman wrote to Louisa, mostly in the late 1870s and early 1880s, describing his travels and occasionally containing instructions for her to follow concerning his mail. The tone is one of familiarity, which might be contrasted with his remarks to others of how it was to live with Louisa and George: "[I] have for three years, during my paralysis, been boarding here, with a relative, comfortable . . . but steadily paying just the same as at an inn—and the whole affair in precisely the same business spirit" (Correspondence 3:47), and "My sister-in-law is very kind in all housekeeping things, cooks what I want, has first rate coffee for me & something nice in the morning, & keeps me a good bed and room—all of which is very acceptable—(then, for a fellow of my size, the friendly presence & magnetism needed, somehow, is not here)" (Correspondence 2:245).

Louisa gave birth to "Walter" in 1875, but the child died within the year (Correspondence 3:54). Whitman was evidently very pleased with the child and was distressed at its death: "I am miserable—he knew me so well—we had already had such good times—and I was counting so much" (Correspondence 3:54). She became pregnant again in 1877, this time with "George," but the baby was stillborn. Louisa is buried in Whitman's mausoleum.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 1. Small, Maynard, 1906; Vol. 4. Ed. Sculley Bradley. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1953.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vols. 2–3. New York: New York UP, 1961–1964.


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