Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 9 February [1871]

Date: February 9, 1871

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00609

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, "1871," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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febuary 91

My dear walt

i2 write a few lines to say i received your letter yesterday and papers and the letter and graphic on saturday the pictures in the graphic is very good and very solem some of them)3 but the hudson river horror4 is awful in the extreme it is enoughf to make one shudder) i am better of my cold but are quite lame it seems as if the pain and lameness is all settled in my left knee i can walk rather better this morning but yesterday i was quite bad but i think it will be better in a day or two i have had a weakness in my right hand and wrist you can see by my writing it looks some like yours walt when your thumb was so bad5 how is your thumb joint is it better or dont you think about it george6 was home last saturday stayed till monday the weather was so cold he dident go back till monday) we are looking for matt7 this week or next i hope this will find you well walter dear

O i must tell you i got a letter from Charley Heyde8 yesterday it certainly was the best i think he ever wrote he always when he writes to me begins with mrs whitman this was commenced with dear mother whitman he said han9 had two letters from walt and by what he said she was pretty well i thought to myself when i read his letter has charley heyde got relegion it was so different from his former letters10 probably the next will be the old stile good bie walter dear write to me as often as you can i have no reason to complain of you thou[gh?]

edd11 is quite good and helps me all he can


1. This letter dates to February 9, 1871. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter February 9, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1871. However, Edwin Haviland Miller dated a letter, presumably this one, February 8, 1871 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). The month and year are certain because the letter refers to the "hudson river horror," which matches a train disaster that occurred on February 7, 1871. No other letter can date to February 9, 1871, so Miller's date February 8 is an error. [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 February 7?, 1871 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. Miller dated Walt's missing letter February 6?, 1871 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362).

The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, founded by William Luson Thomas (1830–1900), began publication in London in December 1869. Its high-quality illustrations and coverage of the Franco-Prussian War helped its circulation to rise rapidly, to around 50,000 subscribers by 1870 and up to 250,000 subscribers by 1874. See Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor, ed., Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (London: British Library, 2009). The steam crossing from Liverpool to New York took about 12 days in 1870, so Walt presumably forwarded a copy of The Graphic that dated to early or mid-January. The January 18 number has a full-page engraving of a dying French soldier in another's arms, Henry Woods's "The Last Message," which is paired with a poem of the same title by Walter Thornbury (36, 35). The January 7 number has a two-page engraving by Godefroy Durand with ten foreground figures of dying or deceased soldiers entitled "The Last Bivouac: The Crest of a Hill Between Champigny and Villiers, on the Night of December 5, 1870," which is also paired with a poem entitled "The Last Bivouac" by E. J. C. (10–11, 9). [back]

4. On February 7, the Second Pacific Express, a passenger train, collided with a derailed freight train carrying an estimated 500 barrels of kerosene. The ensuing conflagration resulted in significant loss of life. See "Appalling Disaster: A Human Holocaust on the Hudson River Railroad. Passengers Roasted Alive. Forty or Fifty Persons Supposed to Have Perished," New York Times, February 8, 1871, 1. [back]

5. Walt Whitman cut his thumb in late April or early May 1870, and it became infected. He referred to the injury in two letters from Brooklyn, a May 11, 1870 letter to Walbridge A. Field and a second May 11, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman inquired about or expressed concern for his thumb in this and five other letters to Walt from May or June to July 1870: May 17? to June 11?, 1870, June 1, 1870, June 8, 1870, June 22, 1870, June 29, 1870, and July 20, 1870[back]

6. 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]

7. 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 long with a throat ailment that led to her death in 1873. 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.

The date that Mattie and her daughters arrived in spring 1871 is not known, but the visit was probably planned to coincide with the marriage of George Washington Whitman to Louisa Orr Haslam in March or April 1871. [back]

8. Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892) a landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–190), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's second daughter, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. [back]

9. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde. [back]

10. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters. Louisa wrote, in her March 24, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman, "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them." [back]

11. 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]


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