Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [5? July 1870]

Date: July 5?, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00597

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, "July 12 1870 (?)," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Caterina Bernardini

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My dear Walt

i received your letter on monday2 glad to hear you get along so well every one seems to complain so much of the weather its hot to be shure but its no use fretting about it well Walt i have been to day and had my picture taken i have been saving money for it for this 2 months and to day i have been to pendletons on the corner of fulton and johnson st and had six large ones3 taken i went alone i told the man i wanted very extraordinary ones fer the were to go to a distance and he said he would take the best that could be taken i set three times the last one did look very good the others was good only the eyes wasent so good they will cost nearly 20 dollar yours and georges4 i will have framed and one for myself i shall send han5 one in the package so you see walt i bequeath something to my children so they will not forget me) i hear noth[in?] from Jeff and matt6 maybee they are away)7 good bie walter dear

i will give the book to helen8

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. The date of this letter, July 5?, 1870, is somewhat speculative. Richard Maurice Bucke estimated the date as July 12, 1870. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver agreed with Bucke's date (Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 203), and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). The letter, however, is more likely to date to a week earlier. The most useful detail for dating the letter is that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman has had a photograph taken at the studio of William S. Pendleton. She plans to enclose a copy of the photograph in a box that she has prepared for her daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde. According to her firmly dated July 20, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman, she had requested a pickup of Hannah's package by Westcott's Express Tuesday the previous week (July 12). If she prepared Hannah's box on the same day that she has the picture taken, this letter dates to July 12, 1870. Since Louisa, in her July 20, 1870 letter, lamented the difficulty of preparing the package for Hannah, it is unlikely that she would both seek to have her picture taken and on the same day (July 12) have the box sent to Hannah. Therefore, this letter is more likely to date to the preceding Tuesday, July 5, 1870. [back]

2. No letters from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman between February 1869 and his July 27, 1870, return to Brooklyn are extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:78–2:101). Walt returned to Brooklyn briefly after his thumb became infected in late April or early May 1870, and he returned to Washington in mid-May (see his May 11, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor). [back]

3. William S. Pendleton's photography studio was located at 297 Fulton Street at the corner of Johnson. The earliest advertisement for Pendleton at that location dates to early August 1870 (see "Pendleton, Practical Photographer," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 6, 1870, 3), but the studio was open in October 1869 ("For Sale—A Large Stove," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 29, 1869, 3). A photograph of Walt Whitman was taken at the same studio (see Ted Genoways and Ed Folsom, "An Unpublished Early 1870s Photograph of Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 23 [Summer 2005], 59–60). For Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's photograph, see "Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right," Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (Feinberg-Whitman Collection, Library of Congress, [back]

4. 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 also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden, and he married Louisa Orr Haslam in spring 1871. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

5. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [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)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

7. Thomas Jefferson Whitman and family were in St. Paul, Iowa, in early August 1870 and presumably departed St. Louis for Iowa some weeks earlier. The date of their departure is not known (see Walt Whitman's August 2, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor). [back]

8. The final three words appear in the right margin of the page. The book that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman gave to Helen Price is not known.

Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Her husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and 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 daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother. In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were 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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