Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [25 August 1868]

Date: August 25, 1868

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00577

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: Elizabeth Lorang, Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Caterina Bernardini

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tuesday evenin1

My dear Walt

i received your letter to day with the nice envelopes all stampd so nicely i feel as if i ougth to write a nice letter the first that i saw of those stamped enpelopes2 i dident know whether they were the lawful or bogus ones i sent Edd3 next door when Mr ray4 kept a jewelery store to get some and he got those and i was so green i had to ask george if they would go and to tease me he told me letters wouldent go with them envelopes i told him i gave 4 cent a peice for them and they ought to be good then he said he gessd theyed go i am glad to hear you have been so well this summer walter it is quite warm here and terribly dusty i am in hopes it will rain as it has the appearance of it george5 has been to the country for three days he went up in the glen cove boat to roslin and went out sailing and fishing and had a pretty good time6 i believe whethe his gal7 went with him or not i dont know he got back sunday night and is inspecting on the smal[l?] pipe to day as the large has not come yet he and mr Lane8 seems to get along very well jeffy9 wrote to me after he was home that george would not be discharged as long as mr Lane was there10 george might save something i think if he was saving but these bad gals and amusements takes the green he s saving enoughf toward me i know i dont know how he would be if you didint send me so much but i think i shouldent get along so well if i depended altogether on him)11 O walt i feel sometimes like the irish when you give em any thing they always say long may you live and be blessed) but i dont know as i ought to complain of george he dont know how much it takes to keep house he is very good to me so long as i dont interfere with his affairs) the house is getting along very well12 they are putting up the stairs now so you dident like your new place as well as the old one13 well a person will get attached to any place where they live a long time)

i am pretty well now i have been trouble[d?] with a pain in my side but i put mustard on14 and it is better but very sore) walter dear if you send me a money order next week i wish you would put a dollar in with it

good by walter dear

i am glad you have set the time to come15

i think the prices must be in the country as i havent seen them lately16

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)."


1. This letter dates to August 25, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter "spring of 1869," and Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter "summer" 1869 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:80, n. 11). Miller's summer 1869 date is impossible: Moses Lane resigned the position of Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works on May 1, 1869, but this letter refers to the safety of George Washington Whitman's position as a pipe inspector so long as Lane remained as the chief engineer ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). Bucke's spring date is also impossible, as Louisa herself refers to "summer" in this letter, and she had noted in April 1869 that Lane was expected to resign his position after a new water board was seated (see her April 7, 1869 letter to Walt). This letter dates to the previous year, and it followed Walt's August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. This letter responds directly to four matters from Walt's letter: the receipt of stamped envelopes, Walt's dissatisfaction with his boarding situation, a requested update on George's house, and an acknowledgment that Walt has set a date for his coming September leave. Walt dated his August 24 letter "Monday forenoon," and Louisa dates this letter "tuesday evening." One day for letters between Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, New York, is common if the letter was sent before noon, so this letter dates to August 25, 1868. [back]

2. Walt Whitman enclosed "some envelopes—they are already stamped" in his August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [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. Ebenezer Ray (1843?–1902) was a long-time jewelry store owner in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn City Directory (1869) lists him as a jeweler at 462 Atlantic Avenue. [back]

5. 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]

6. George Washington Whitman and "his gal" were on a leisure tour up East River. The steamer departed "Pier 24, at Peck Slip, foot of Beekman Street, for Glen Cove, L[ong] I[sland]" (Appletons' Hand-Book for American Travel. Northern and Eastern Tour [New York: D. Appleton, 1873], 30, 31). Glen Cove, accessible from Hempstead, was a "pleasant place for a quiet day's enjoyment[,]" and the village of Roslyn was "nestled among green trees and placid lakelets" (36). [back]

7. George Washington Whitman's "gal" was probably Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892). George and Louisa married in spring 1871 and lived in Camden, New Jersey. [back]

8. Moses Lane (1823–82) was Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869 and later became City Engineer of Milwaukee. The connection between Lane and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, who had served under Lane before accepting the position of Chief Engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, led to George Washington Whitman's employment as a pipe inspector in Brooklyn. Lane resigned as Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works the following year, on May 1, 1869 ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). For more information on Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff. [back]

9. 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]

10. Moses Lane resigned as Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works the following year, on May 1, 1869 ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's remark on the contrast between Walt Whitman's generosity and George Washington Whitman's spendthrift ways may betray considerable frustration. George had received a $510 bank draft from his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman just days before, $500 of which was a loan to help George keep his speculative housing business financially viable as he awaited the next sale (see Jeff's August 20, 1868 letter to George). The extra $10 was "to mother as a present from Mattie" (Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell Whitman). Louisa may not have received the $10 from Mattie before George departed for his leisure trip. [back]

12. The house is on the lot at 1149 Atlantic Avenue, which George Washington Whitman soon purchased outright from his partner Smith and to which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved in late September (see Louisa's August 26, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman and Walt Whitman's September 25, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle). [back]

13. Walt Whitman had written, "I have not been satisfied with my boarding place—so several weeks ago, I tried another place & room for a couple of days & nights on trial, without giving up my old room—Well, I was glad enough to go back to my old place & stay there" (see his August 24, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). The "old room" to which he returned was 472 M Street South, a boarding house owned by Mr. & Mrs. Newton Benedict. He began boarding with the Benedicts in February 1867 (see his February 12, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman; also see Kim Roberts, "A Map of Whitman's Washington Boarding Houses and Work Places," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 22:1 [November 2004], 25). [back]

14. Mustard plasters were a mustard paste that was applied to a cloth or paper, which was then applied to skin, generally with an intervening layer of cloth or paper. The paste, sometimes diluted, was typically applied to the abdomen and was held to relieve pain by increasing bloodflow or by drawing excess blood from the inflamed or painful area. Mustard, a strong irritant, would produce blisters if allowed to remain in contact with skin. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 297. [back]

15. This postscript is in the right margin of the page. [back]

16. This note is inverted on the first page. Walt Whitman conveyed his mother's remark on the lack of visits from the Price family in his September 7, 1868 letter to Abby H. Price, in which he also asked if he could board at the Price's residence during his leave, a request that she accepted (see Walt's September 14, 1868 letter).

Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Her husband Edmund operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman are included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]


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