Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [11 December 1867]

Date: December 11, 1867

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00510

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: An image of the verso of the second leaf is not currently available. The verso is blank.

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

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wensday afternoon1

my dear walt

i have got your letter with the 5 dollars and am oblige to you Walter dear for the same Jeffy2 arrived here this morning just as i got up he left st louis sund[ay?] night he is very well and looks fat matty3 had got a place and went down yesterday afternoon she got it last week but they have staid here all through the cold weather and you may be shure i have had a pretty busy time of it and yesterday afternoon they took up their quarters at their new abode but are back again to day so i aint had much [grace?] they got all their things and carpets down before they went it is carlton ave between fulton ave and green walking distance from here matty is very sorry she has taken the house as Jeff talks of her going to st louis

i cant write much this time walter as i have to get tea against jeff and matt comes up from down town i liked your letter walt4 all but one thing and that was about your coming you dident say any thing about that dont you think you can come Walt i doo so wish you can i know you will if you can get away) the weather is quite moderate now but we got through the cold quite well considering it was so cold matt could not stay next door so they moved in with me till yester[day?] i feel quite smart i am taki[ng?] the medicine yet it makes me have a better appetite and i [think?] helps me as a general thing i received mr Oconor [present?]5 with the letter and am very gratified to him and shall read it with much pleasure i make no doubt as the evening is so tedious as i cant work much if i doo my arm will pain me and i dont have much to read now george6 is gone he used to get the papers i take the old eagle7 mr Oconor is very kind in remembering me if he takes as much pleasure and i have reason to think he does in sending them as i doo in reading them we are both well paid i have not heard from georg[e?] since he went away but shall expect him home next week)

good bie walter dear this is wrote in a hurry as the young ones [is?] raising old ned8
Louisa Wh9


1. This letter dates to December 11, 1867. Richard Maurice Bucke, on an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here), dated this letter December 18, 1867. In his calendar of letters, Edwin Haviland Miller assigned a letter—presumably this one—from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman a date range of December 1–15, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:379). By contrast, Randall H. Waldron cited Bucke's December 18, 1867 date (Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 44). Bucke and Waldron's date of December 18, which fell on Wednesday—the day of the week in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand—would place this letter following her December 15, 1867 letter to Walt. But the present letter must precede that one. The letter notes Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's arrival "here this morning," and in her December 15 letter Louisa reported that Jeff "has got well again he eats so heartily." The December 15 letter in which Jeff is already in Brooklyn is firmly dated in Louisa's hand, so this Wednesday letter—which notes Jeff's arrival—must precede that one. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Walt Whitman's December 13?, 1867 letter (which Edwin Haviland Miller dated December 6?, 1867 in Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:370; 1:379) to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. [back]

5. The present may have been William D. O'Connor's The Ghost (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1867), or he may have forwarded books or newspapers. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866. Nelly O'Connor had a close personal relationship with Whitman, and the correspondence between Walt and Nelly 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]

6. 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]

7. The "eagle" refers to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Though Louisa Van Velsor Whitman subscribed to the newspaper, she was skeptical of paper's editorial slant to the Democratic party. In her February 17, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman, she gave her fullest rejection of its politics: "the old eagle how i dislike it yet i take it if i dident see any other paper i should think andy [Johnson] was perfection and all the rest was crushed general grant in the bargain." [back]

8. Ned is a folk name for the devil, so the phrase "raising old ned," like "raising the devil," signals that granddaughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa were causing a disturbance or trouble. [back]

9. 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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