Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [5–6 May 1873]

Date: May 5–6, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00615

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, "From Camden 1873," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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dear walt1

i2 got your letter on sater with the 5 dollars and got one to day3 i am not feeling very well walter dear i am very nervious and have such a trembling in my whole system my appetite is very poor4 i dont know what ails me i feel bad maybee nothing Lou5 is not well to day she went out yesterday and came home sick

the 1 of next month if you are able you must try to come on here lou s aunt6 goes to nurse somebody then and the room will be vacant


1. This letter dates to May 5 or May 6, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1873. This letter is probably the "short letter of yesterday" that Walt Whitman mentioned in his May 7, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In addition, this letter acknowledged Louisa's receipt Saturday of $5 that Walt had sent on Thursday or Friday. Although Walt's letter sending the $5 is not extant, in his April 30, 1873 letter he had promised to enclose the money in "my next [letter]." Walt in his reply to this letter worried about his mother's condition, a concern elicited by the shortness of this letter, the deficiency of her handwriting, and her report of "a trembling in my whole system" (see Walt's May 7, 1873). If Louisa received Walt's Thursday or Friday letter on Saturday, May 3, and she had received another letter ("one to today") from Walt, this letter—the "short letter" that elicited Walt's worried May 7 response—dates to May 5 or May 6, 1873. [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 in his April 30, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman promised to send "the other 5 in my next," but his Thursday or Friday letter from that week is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:217). [back]

4. Walt Whitman in his May 7, 1873 letter responded, "I feel so bad, you are not well." He inquired whether rest or better food could help, and he promised to "come on about the 1st of next month." [back]

5. Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Lou" or "Loo," married George Washington Whitman in spring 1871, and they were soon living at 322 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey. At the insistence of George and his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward departed from Brooklyn to live with George and Lou in the Stevens Street house in August 1872, with Walt Whitman responsible for Edward's board. Her health in decline, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was displeased with the living arrangement and confided many frustrations, often directed at Lou, in her letters to Walt. She never developed the close companionship with Lou that she had with Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. [back]

6. The "aunt" who was engaged to assist Louisa "Lou" Orr Haslam has not been identified. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman described Lou's aunt as English, and Louisa was not fond of the aunt's company: "i wouldent be very sorry if aunty wasent here" (see Louisa's April 21–May 3?, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). She is named "aunt Lib" and "aunt Libby" in Louisa's April 10–15, 1873 and April 21, 1873 letters to Walt. [back]


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