Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 23 March [1870]

Date: March 23, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00593

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, "? | May 1870," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

march 231

My dear walt

i2 have just got your letter with the money in it3 i received the within letter4 last monday was glad to hear from matty5 i was very much worried for fear the storm had overtaken her6 and she had been detained but it seems she got home all safe i will write a few lines and send that part of the letter about the masons7 they could have just as well have accommadated her as not for a few days but i gess its all for the best she dident go) i wasent favorable to her going at all but she had such a wish to go i dident say so much against it) George8 came home last saturday very unexpeted he came to see about getting the inspecting of some pipe for the gas company but they dident make an agreement so he went back on monday he is well looks most too fat and pussy but seems to be well) you must write the particulars about the new cloths walt) i have had mrs Brown9 and willie s wife10 here this afternoon) i aint quite so lame to day

O walt can you send the week [for?] i have got up to the 17th11

i am reading the story good bie12


1. This letter dates to March 23, 1870. The date "march 23" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, but Richard Maurice Bucke marked the letter with a speculative month of May and the year 1870. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with the month in Louisa's hand and dated the letter March 23?, 1870 (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961], 2:367). Bucke's date is incorrect, and his error originated in a misreading of Thomas Jefferson Whitman's March 18, 1870 letter to Louisa (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 143). Jeff's month is hurried and trails off after the letters "Ma," so Bucke misread Jeff's date as "Ma[y?]." Berthold and Price date Jeff's letter March and transcribe his month "Mar" (143). This letter from Louisa is written on the reverse of her son Jeff's letter. The month March is correct and is consistent both with Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's return to St. Louis and with a recent storm in Brooklyn. Mattie departed Brooklyn on March 14, 1870, and she arrived in St. Louis on March 16 (see Louisa's March 16, 1870 letter to Walt and Jeff's March 18, 1870 letter to Louisa). [back]

2. 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. Walt Whitman's March 21?, 1870 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], 2:362). [back]

4. The "within letter" from the preceding Monday is unlikely to be from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman: if such a letter existed, it is not extant. A March 14 letter from Mattie is impossible as an enclosure because she departed Brooklyn for St. Louis on that date (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 16, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). The more probable case is that the phrase "within letter" refers to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's brief letter on Mattie's arrival in St. Louis. Louisa's letter is written on the reverse of Jeff's letter (see Jeff's March 18, 1870 letter to Louisa). If Jeff's letter was mailed on March 18, it probably arrived in Brooklyn on March 21, 1873 (Monday). [back]

5. 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 had visited Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Brooklyn for treatment of her throat ailment from February 16 to March 14, 1870. 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]

6. A damaging storm hit Brooklyn on March 16, 1870 (see "Long Island Items: Effects of the Storm To-Day on Long Island," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1870, 14). [back]

7. After Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's departure for St. Louis in May 1867, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman stayed with the family of Gordon F. Mason, a prominent businessman, in Towanda, Pennsylvania, from June to September 1867. Mattie was a close friend to Mason's daughter Irene Mason, and Jeff was a close friend to his son Julius "Jules" Mason—Jeff and Jules worked together at the Brooklyn Water Works. See Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 37, 42; see also Jeff Whitman's February 10, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

8. 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]

9. The Brown family began boarding in the same house as the Whitmans on Portland Avenue, Brooklyn in April 1860. The relationship between the Browns and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's family was often strained, but the Browns remained in the Portland Avenue house for five years. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman maintained a cordial relationship with the Browns after Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman departed for St. Louis. Years later Louisa called on Mrs. Brown and remarked to Walt Whitman, "if Jeff and matt knew i had been to see mrs Brown they would cross me off their books" (see her April 14, 1869 letter). [back]

10. The man named Willie is probably the son of tailor John Brown, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's former neighbor. After a visit from John Brown in February 1868, Louisa wrote that Brown's son Willie was married (see Louisa's February 19, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). Willie Brown's wife has not been identified. [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman presumably reads a serial fiction in weekly installments. The words "week" and "weekly" are common in newspaper and magazine titles, and she may refer not to the title of a periodical but to the next weekly issue. [back]

12. The postscript begins inverted at the top of the second page and continues in the left margin. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.