Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 December 1865

Date: December 10, 1865

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00465

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Brooklyn 10 Dec 1865," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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Sunday 101

Dear Walt

i have got in the habit of writing to you every sunday so i thought i wouldent break through to day) i received your letter yesterday2 after looking all day for one i was glad to have the letter and glad to have the 2 dollars at noon i hadent one cent and i asked georgee3 to give me 50 cents and after looking for a considerable time he laid me down 50 cents well Walt i felt so bad and child like i cried because he dident give me more if i had got the 2 dollars a little sooner i should not have asked

i have got along very well up to about 2 weeks ago and since that time goerge has been moody and would hardly speak only when i spoke to him well of course you will say mother put the worst constructions on it well Walt i did not the first few days i thought perhaps something had gone wrong in his business affairs but up to to day he has been so different from what he was ever since i have been home4 but to day he is more like himself Well Walt i thought of every thing sometimes i would think maybee he is tired of having me and Edd5 and then i would think george is too noble a fellow for that to be the cause and i knew that i had not or he had not been to more expence than if he paid his board Jeffy6 told me to have a talk with george and ask him what made him so but i dident like to i would ask him if he wasent well and so on but i doo hope it will go over i acted just the same as if i did not notice any change but i felt awful bad and what has made him act so god only knows but i believe it runs in the Whitman family to have such spells any how i hope they wont come often) Jeff is quite sick to day he was sick nearly all night vomiting and purging he has eaten very heartily lately he eat chicken and stuffing for his supper and cranberry pie before he went to bed and i think that is one great cause of his sickness he looks bad but probably it will doo him good to have a good clearing out the rest is all well mat7 has had company 4 days this past week and expects the Doctor8 to day we had quite an alarm not at this house but the [recent parknesses?]9 A burglar broke in the basement while the man and his wife lay sleeping in the front basement when she awoke he was lighting the big lamp he had taken the mans wa[ch?] and 5 dollars and walked into the back basement and came bac[k?] and kicked the window open and walked out10 the lady mrs jones11 came here the next morning very much alarmed indeed there is very much house breaking and robbery going on in this city there is hardly a night but there is a dance over the way and an awful fight the other night) well Walt next sunday when i write maybe it will be more cheerful i wish walt you will send me ten [dolls?] not all at one time but if you can send me 5 at the next writing my shoes is rather bad for cold weather i have some mi[nd?] to not send this letter now i have wrote it if you write any thing abou[t?] it put it in a separate peice

L Whit12


1. The day of the week, "Sunday," and "10" are in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date December 10, 1865. Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). December 10 fell on Sunday in 1865, and December 1865 is consistent with the presence in Brooklyn of George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, and Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Also, the letter mentions a recent theft of a watch nearby, which echoes a story that appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of December 6, 1865. The letter dates to December 10, 1865. [back]

2. Walt Whitman's December 8, 1865 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:369). [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army 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). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had returned in mid-October from an extended visit to her daughter Hannah Heyde in Burlington, Vermont. [back]

5. 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]

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. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

8. The doctor is probably Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867), who befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85). [back]

9. These two words are difficult to decipher. The transcription of the text, letter by letter, is probably "recent parknesses." The first letter in each word, however, is written over and the reading is doubtful. Because the letter refers to local burglaries and fights in the City Park near the Naval Yard, the intended phrase could be "recent park [me]nesses," with the "me" omitted inadvertently. The criminal activity that menaced the City Park near the Naval Yard followed mass layoffs of laborers as part of post-war demobilization (see "The Political Guillotine at Work, Excitement in the Navy Yard" and "The Navy Yard," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 5, 1865, 2). Louisa had described a crime near City Park a few weeks earlier (see her November 25, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

10. This burglary of a silver watch valued at $30, which occurred on Portland Avenue near Myrtle on December 5, was reported in the next day's paper ("City News and Gossip," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 6, 1865, 3). [back]

11. Mrs. Jones has not been identified, but she may have been the neighbor whose watch was stolen. [back]

12. The signature appears in the bottom margin of the first page.

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]


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