Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 18 [November 1868]

Date: November 18, 1868

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00555

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 18 Nov. 68," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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My dear Walter1

I2 got your letter monday with the contents all safe I should have written before but I wanted to hear from Hannah3 and we hadent had any word from Jeff4 in a week so I thought I would wait I got one from Heyde yesterday tuesday 17th he says Han is improvin[g?] the doctor lanced her wrist and it discharged very much he said and since he said she was not quite so nervious her wrist appears to have been a gathering – it must be on her right hand I dont wonder at her letter being wrote so irregular and she very nervous with all well as to Jeff he is I suppose on his way to Brooklyn – will be here probably on saturday or sunday5 I am glad he is coming poor jeff I feel sorry for him and sorry for matty6 and sorry for myself – I have my hands full I will assure you Walter dear – I feel sometimes almost done out – then i get quite recruited) some days matty has to lie down nearly all day – then again she can doo around a little – she has been troubled very much with vomiting I think she takes some things that disagrees with her stomach the wine she has had is not very good I pers[wa?]ded her to not get any more George7 says they say the[re?] is no good port wine at all) the doctor does all he can he sounded her lungs again on monday and said it [w?]s no worse but if any thing rather better) her right lung is the one affected) she asked him if he couldent give her something for her coughf he said no that it came from her lungs and no medicine could cure it – the only thing was the way she lived and place she lived in) and that was the only thing that would help her) he said if she had 16 doctors the best that could be produced they could not remove her disease by medicine) but if she would go where the air was dry she could very likely get better Yesterday she was sick on account of the east win[d?] George went to the doctors last night to get something he had had prepared for her) the doctor asked him if she hadent had a bad day) charley heyde said they mentioned her case to dr Thayer8 and he said she couldent have come to a worse place than brooklyn

good by Walter dear

i sent Han a letter last week a good one9


1. This letter dates to November 18, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter November 18, 1868, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that she received a letter from Charles L. Heyde, her daughter Hannah's husband, "yesterday tuesday 17th." November 18 fell on a Wednesday in the year 1868, and the letter's discussion of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's illness and the expected arrival of Mattie's husband Thomas Jefferson Whitman is consistent with that year. [back]

2. This letter is unusual for its systematic correction. The marks are faintly visible on the digital image but are clearly visible on the manuscript in the Trent Collection at Duke University. The corrections appear to be in Louisa's hand, but she may have been prompted to make these corrections by her visiting granddaughter Manahatta. (Manahatta accompanied her mother Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman for her return to Brooklyn for medical treatment.) It appears that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her hand corrected her usual lowercase "i" to capital "I" and made many marks to separate phrases. That said, while lower-case "i" is more common in later letters, capital "I" is not unusual in early letters. Also, the style of the slash to separate phrases is not systematically different from the mark that is elsewhere transcribed as a closing parenthesis—the style of the mark varies widely. In this edition, the dashes have been transcribed as an en dash with a space before and after, and the slash-style marks are transcribed as the closing parenthesis.

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]

3. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. In late 1868 Hannah suffered a thumb infection that led Doctor Samuel W. Thayer to lance her wrist in November and to amputate her thumb the following month (see Charles L. Heyde's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, December 1868, Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225). [back]

4. 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]

5. Thomas Jefferson Whitman arrived in Brooklyn on November 20, 1868, a Friday. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Samuel W. Thayer, a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School, performed surgeries in Burlington, Vermont during the 1860s. Walt Whitman inquired about Hannah's health in his December 8, 1868 letter to Thayer. For the Whitman family's bitterness toward Charles L. Heyde and the stress that Hannah's health crisis introduced between Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and George Washington Whitman, see Horace Traubel, Wednesday, January 9, 1889, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:499–500. [back]

9. The postscript is written in the left margin. [back]


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