Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 14 July [1869?]

Date: July 14, 1869?

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00598

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, "14 July 1870," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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Jul 141

dear Walt

well we have lived so far through the summer as you say i2 think last sunday was the hottest day we have had this summer at any rate i felt the heat more than any time yet i thought if i had much to doo i couldent have done it as it was edd went to church3 and George was away i had as much as i could doo to get something for myself i thought of you i thought probably you was out somewhere where it was cooler than here it is as cool here as any place that is so far down town its being open in front makes it better it is comfortable to day i feel pretty well am thankfull i am as well as i am) got your walter dear with its contents all safe) hellen Price was here yesterday she and her mother i expect over here the last of next week to make a vesit i hope the weather wont be so hot but i will try to make some preperation before they come hellen says when you come home she is coming over to tea one day and then you can go home with her and stay all night mrs price has wrote to you hellen says4 and she s wondering all the time why you dont write to her thinks walt might send her a few lines) i beleive they think emmily will be married this fall5 they are a good family i think ellen says the magic ruffle business6 is much better managed they have charged some of the persons to much better advanta[ge?] so that mrs price will get in august about 500 dollar will get about that every six months) i expect george7 home next saturday i think probably he will stay as kingsley8 wishes him to inspect the new main that is to be laid from east new york) i had a letter from matty9 since i wrote to you they seem to be all getting along very well wants some of you to come out there she says the works will be done and none of you will come to see it she said she was going to write to you that hatt[ie?] was much pleased with her letter and picture10 shows it to all the folks matty says hatty is up to her shoulders i am sorry she grows up so tall she is only [9?] years old11

love to all and yourself walt dear


1. The most probable date for this letter is July 14, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1870, but Edwin Haviland Miller dated it to 1869 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). Bucke's reason for dating the letter to 1870 is unclear, but Walt Whitman returned to Brooklyn for his vacation in July 1870. It is unlikely, were the letter to date 1870, that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman would omit mention of Walt's expected arrival within less than two weeks. Miller's year 1869 is believed correct, and numerous factors support this date, though most are indirect. The letter states that granddaughter Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman is "only [9?] years old." Though the number is at best semi-legible, Hattie was 9 years old in July 1869. Another indirect reason to prefer the year 1869 is Helen Price's statement that her mother Abby Price has written to Walt and hopes that he will respond. Walt wrote Abby Price on July 16, 1869 to thank Helen for visiting his mother, prompted perhaps by this letter or by Abby Price's. Louisa had anticipated a visit by the Prices earlier in July (see her July 5–12?, 1869 letter to Walt). Miller proposed that Walt's letter to Abby Price was prompted by this letter, but Walt did not respond to news about Emily "Emma" Price's marriage (Correspondence, 2:83, n. 31), which is an odd complication. Emily Price married Edward M. Law, an engraver, in 1869. Louisa writes of the expected date of marriage only that she "beleive[s] they think," a phrase that suggests uncertainty. That is a peculiar statement in July 1869 because Emily Price—according to another letter—married in late April or early May 1869. Just after a visit by Helen Price (Emily's sister), Louisa wrote to Walt that Emily "married about two or three weeks ago" (see Louisa's May 30, 1869 letter to Walt). That letter of course conflicts with this letter's month July: the date of Emily Price's marriage is an awkward complication, which may suggest confusion on Louisa's part or an effort by the Prices to be ambiguous about Emily's marriage date—or that this letter is not dated correctly. Despite that complication, many factors support summer 1869 for this letter. The width of the paper in this letter is consistent with Louisa's July 5–12?, 1869 letter to Walt, which does mention the expected visit by the Prices. On the basis of the Price visit, Emily Price's marriage, granddaughter Hattie's age, and Walt's July 16, 1869 letter to Abby Price, this letters most likely dates to July 14, 1869. [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. 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. Edward attended Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. Beecher, Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church in 1847. [back]

4. Helen "Ellen" Price was the daughter of Edmund and Abby Price, whom Walt Whitman and his mother had known since the Prices moved to Brooklyn in 1856. During the 1860s, Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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]

5. The exact date of Emily Price's marriage is not known: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman does not state a firm date because she prefaces her claim: "i beleive [sic] they think." According to Louisa's April 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman, Emily was expected to marry a man named Law, an "artist in the cheap picture line." Emily Price married Edward Law (1844?–), whose occupation is listed as engraver in the 1880 census (see United States Census. 1880. New York. Brooklyn, Kings.). [back]

6. The spelling "ellen" is Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's alternate spelling of Helen. Abby Price's (1814–1878) business involved the attachment of ruffles, a process for which her partner, the inventor George B. Arnold, had developed a sewing machine attachment (see Sherry L. Ceniza, "Walt Whitman and Abby Price," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 7:2 [Fall 1989], 50–51, 63, n. 7). Abby Price had offered Walt $1000 to lobby Thomas Harland, the chief clerk in the Patent Office, to have her ruffles exempted from the list of articles subject to a tax assessment because the materials used to make the ruffles were already taxed (see Abby Price's March 25, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). Also see Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 54, 94, 208, n. 16. [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 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]

8. Charles Williams Kingsley (1833–1885) was a contractor for the Brooklyn Water Works. [back]

9. 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 suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

10. Walt Whitman's letter is not extant. Numerous photographs of Whitman were taken between the years 1868 and 1870 (see "Gallery of Images"). [back]

11. Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. If this letter dates to July 1869, Hattie is 9 years old, and her sister Jessie Louisa (1863–1957), known as "Sis," is 6 years old. [back]


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