Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [23 March 1873]

Date: March 23, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00618

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.

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

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My dear Walt1

i2 received your letter yesterday we got the papers you send3 walter dear i am glad you gain a little the weather here is very disagreable dark and dreary just so i feel at times dark and dreary i suppose every body has theire good feelings and bad ones) i have been writing to Jeff4 and speaking about matty5 makes me always feel so down heart[ed?] she was so good to me i cant never get reconciled to her loss never shall i find her kindness from daughter or daughter inlaw but she s gone poor soul i was glad you got a letter from Jeff6 i wish he would write to me i suppose he is very busy with his extra work george7 too is on seems to be full of business mr Lane has empowered him to oversee his work at florence and glowcester8 so i dont think george will suffer for the want of employment if he dident get the brooklyn work9 starr10 dident put in a bill for the brooklyn work so its done away at easton11

Lou s aunt12 is here has been here sometime and will stay i suppose somtime lou 13 likes to hav[e?] her here very much i suppose so we drift along walter dear some is wanted and some aint but we shall all get to our final resting place some day)

good bie dear walt
we will all hope for the best

this aint a very cheerfull letter i dont feel much like writing a good letter so dont send this to han14 (i am pretty well

write as often as you can dear walt15


1. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter "shortly after" Martha Mitchell Whitman's death on February 19, 1873, which narrows the range of dates to late February or early March. Edwin Haviland Miller presumably dated it March 23?, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370). Miller's date is correct because of this letter's many similarities to Walt Whitman's March 21, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Louisa's letter acknowledges receiving "papers" in response to a query in Walt's letter, expresses her satisfaction that Walt has received a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, and echoes Walt's phrase "extra work" to explain her not receiving a letter from Jeff. Therefore, since Walt's March 21, 1873 letter to Louisa is almost certainly the one that she acknowledges as "your letter yesterday," the earliest date for this letter is March 23, 1873. Since Louisa's March 24?, 1873 letter to Walt is dated "monday" in her own hand, it must follow this one. Therefore, this letter dates to March 23, 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 wrote, "I send some more papers, to-day." He referred also to receiving a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and to Jeff's "extra work" for Kansas City, Missouri (see Walt's March 21, 1873 letter to Louisa). [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

6. See Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's March 16, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. Also see Walt Whitman's March 21, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved from Brooklyn to reside with them in Camden in August 1872. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

8. Moses Lane (1823–1882), the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works and a close friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman during his time there from 1862 to 1867, was also George Washington Whitman's employer when he began inspecting pipe for the Brooklyn Water Works. After departing Brooklyn in 1869, Lane eventually became the City Engineer of Milwaukee. George was probably inspecting pipe at the R. D. Wood Foundry sites in Camden and Florence, New Jersey, and at the Gloucester Iron-Works. The Iron-Works, an enterprise founded by directors formerly associated with Star's Foundry in 1864, specialized in casting pipes for water and gas distribution (see the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's finding aid to the R. D. Wood & Co. Records, 1858–1910,; and see George Reeser Prowell, The History of Camden County, New Jersey [Philadelphia: Richards, 1886], 594). [back]

9. For George Washington Whitman's earlier prospect of work, which led him to travel to Brooklyn, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 17?, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. A few days later Louisa wrote that "george aint like to get the brookly [sic] work" (see her March 21, 1873 letter to Walt). But on March 24 George again entertained the "prospect of getting the brooklyn work" (see Louisa's March 29, 1873 letter to Walt). [back]

10. George Washington Whitman was employed in early 1873 at Star's Foundry (Walt Whitman wrote "Starr's) in Camden, New Jersey. [back]

11. Easton, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River, was the site of numerous iron foundries. [back]

12. 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]

13. 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]

14. 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]

15. The postscript is inverted in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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