Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [1 March 1873]

Date: March 1, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00620

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, "28 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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Saturday noon1

My dear dear walt

i2 have just got your letter the money came all safe3 and i have just paid lou4 edds board5

she is going to phelidelpha to get georgey6 [a hat?] dear walt i feel as if i wanted somebody to talk too about poor matt7 i have got a letter f[ro?]m Jeffy8 a long one and one from hatty9 Jeff gives the particulars of matties death says he couldent write before poor jeff he feels very sad and lonesom i am glad he will keep his children with him lou and george wished me to write to jeff that they would take them i dident want to write it but they insisted upon it i knew walt it wouldent doo of course but i wrote what they wished) of course they expected jeff to pay a good board george thought lou could manage them but walter dear it would never do

they would never be satisfied to live as we doo so its best as it is i told you i beleive george had bought a lot the price was 1200 he got it for 1100 hundred now if they only had money to build a house10 thats the talk i get quite tired of hearin[g?] of money matters somtime) i havent felt lately as if i cared much about it Lou told george he ought to give the house to her) poo[r?] hattie she wants to see grandma so much she said grandma mama is gone i shall never see her again)11 poor children they will never have their loss filled

dont say any thing in your letter about the childrens coming her to live12


1. This letter dates to March 1, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 28, 1873, but February 28 did not fall on Saturday, the day in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, in the year 1873. Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter March 1, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370), and Miller's date, which did fall on Saturday, is correct. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's death on February 19 was very recent at the time of this letter, and three letters that Louisa had received date this letter to Saturday, March 1. February 22 can be eliminated as a possibility because Louisa had received a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, and Jeff described his February 24, 1873 letter to his mother as the first he had written since Mattie's death (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158). Louisa described Jeff's letter as a "long one" with "the particulars of matties death," and that description is consistent with Jeff's February 24, 1873 letter. Louisa's letter also acknowledges Walt's payment for Edward Whitman's board, the $20 that he promised to send within two or three days of his February 26, 1873 letter. Finally, Louisa paraphrases two lines from granddaughter Manahatta Whitman's February 23, 1873 letter (Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress). [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. See Walt Whitman's February 26, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

4. 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]

5. 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. Walt had promised to send $20 for Edward's board a few days earlier (see his February 26, 1873 letter to Louisa). [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 eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

7. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman died on February 19, 1873 from complications associated with a throat ailment. Mattie and her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman 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. 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]

8. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) in his letter provided details about the day of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's death. The day was pleasant, so Jeff planned to take her out. He placed her in a buggy: she collapsed and died later that evening (see Jeff'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], 158–61).

Jeff Whitman 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. He married wife Martha Mitchell (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," in 1859, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had shared their Brooklyn residence until Jeff departed for St. Louis. Mattie and her two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa, joined Jeff in St. Louis in early 1868. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

9. 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. 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 her younger sister Jessie Louisa (1863–1957) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

10. George Washington Whitman will build a larger house on this 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]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman paraphrased closely two phrases from granddaughter Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman's letter: "I shall never see Dear Mama again," and "Oh Dear Grandma if I only could see you I would like it so much." See Hattie's February 23, 1873 letter to Louisa (Library of Congress, Feinberg Collection). [back]

12. The postscript begins in the left margin and continues in the top margin of the page. [back]


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