Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 27 February [1873]

Date: February 27, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00616

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, "Camden Feb. 1873," 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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febuary 271

My dear walt

i2 have been waiting till this thursday afternoon thinking i should hear from Jeffy3 but i have not had a word from him since poor matties death4 i sent two letters to him after mattys death and Lou5 sent one to the children poor little girls6 i wish i had a home to take them for a while any how i expect jeff is in much trouble poor Jeff i had a letter from han7 to day a very good one i will send it to jeffy it speaks so good of matty i got your letter walt to day you seem to have kind friends8 i hope dear walt you will have a home of your own some day if ever we want a home it is when we are sick i have wanted to hear from jeffy and the children9 so bad its so strange i wrote to him to ask him if he wouldent come on here and go to see you i thought maybee it would make him feel better i wish he would come you cant write as you can talk to any one i beleive i havent much more to write dear walt i want to see you and hope you can be well enoughf to come befor lon[g?] george10 and Lou are well george has bought a lot on the corner11 where he spoke of when you was here) O walt how i doo want you to get well

good bie dear walt


1. This letter dates to February 27, 1873. The date February 27 is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Louisa's date and assigned the year 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370). Miller's date is correct. The letter refers to the recent death of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, and Mattie died on February 19, 1873 (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's February 24, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158). [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. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867 and a nationally recognized name. He married Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) in 1859, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman shared their Brooklyn residence until Jeff departed for St. Louis in 1867. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

Jeff had sent word by telegraph of Mattie's death on February 19, and he apologized in his February 24, 1873 letter to his mother—which she had yet to receive—for not writing. Jeff explained that "there were many things I had to do" (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158). [back]

4. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) died on February 19, 1873 from complications associated with a throat ailment that had first been noted by her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in February 1863. Mattie 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. The letters after Mattie's death show that emotional acceptance of the fact was difficult for Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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. Waldron reports that a physician identified the cause of death as cancer (3). Robert Roper has speculated that Mattie's accompanying bronchial symptoms may have been associated with tuberculosis (Now the Drum of War [New York: Walker, 2008], 78–79). [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 "little girls" are Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957), the daughters of Jeff and Mattie Whitman. Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. Hattie and Jessie Louisa were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

7. 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]

8. Walt Whitman wrote that Ursula North Burroughs would be "here probably to-day with a carriage to take me out riding" (see his February 26, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). In January 1873, he had suffered a paralytic stroke that initially confined him to bed: it took weeks before he could resume walking. He first reported the stroke to his mother in his January 26, 1873 letter. For more on Walt Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, see "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)." [back]

9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had yet to receive Jeff Whitman's February 24, 1873 letter and Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman's February 23, 1873 letter. See Jeff Whitman's February 24, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158). Jeff's daughter Hattie wrote, "Oh if you could only be here I would be so glad I shall never see Dear Mama again" (see Manahatta Whitman's February 23, 1873 letter to Louisa, Library of Congress, Feinberg Collection). [back]

10. 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]

11. George Washington Whitman would build a larger house on the corner lot at 431 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey (see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975], 31). [back]


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