Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [26 October 1863]

Date: October 26, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00428

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. 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.

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

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monday evening1

My dear walt

i was sorry my being so late last week with my letter caused you any uneasiness if any thing was the matter with me more than common you would be advised of it my dear walter2 so if any thing occurs that i dont write as usual you must not think any thing unusal is the matter) i got the order walter last saturday and was going down to day to get the money but the wind blew so hard i was afraid to venture it rained here last night very hard) i am about as usual i have had rather bad pains in my limbs lately otherwise i am about as usual i think every morning if i could give you a cup of coffee i should be glad i am pretty lonesome evenings edd3 goes to church4 almost every night i hope you can come for a week some time this winter) you must write next week all about your new quarters how you like your room that fronts the south i shouldent have thought any thing about its fronting the north or south)5 not one word have i had from Jeff6 or matt7 or han8 or ma[ry?]9

you are my whole dependan[ce?]


1. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date October 26, 1863 to this letter on an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here). Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:374). Because this letter echoes Walt Whitman's description of his new boarding arrangement with Eliza S. Baker, the letter must be in response to his October 20, 1863 letter. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote on the Monday (she dated the letter "Monday evening") following her receipt of Walt's letter, so the date October 26, 1863 is correct. [back]

2. Walt Whitman's concerns about his mother's health were raised by Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's October 15, 1863 letter to Walt: Jeff described her as "failing rapidly." [back]

3. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

4. The church is Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. Beecher (1813–1887), Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Edward attended Beecher's church. [back]

5. Walt Whitman had moved to 456 Sixth Street West near Pennsylvania Avenue, and he wrote that his room "looks south" (see his October 20, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). He boarded with Eliza S. Baker, a widow, and her granddaughter (see Kim Roberts, "A Map of Whitman's Washington Boarding Houses and Work Places," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 22.1 [November 2004], 24). [back]

6. 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)." [back]

7. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), 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. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

8. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

9. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]


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