Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [17? March 1873]

Date: March 17?, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00622

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, and Wesley Raabe

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My dear walt1

its another monday morning and edd and me2 is alone george3 has gone to brooklyn and Lou4 is going to philadelph [illegible] [i?] wish you was here with me to day we would have some good strong tea for dinner george has gone to see about getting the brookly work5 and take out a small sum of money from the bank for the man to begin his house6 or Lou s as she calls it) i should much like to have somebody to talk with i dont hear much but house and money if they could build and keep all the money in the bank it would be good the man is to build it very cheap george thinks he will lose by it

i received your letter saturd[ay?] dear walt i am glad you are improving although slowly it is tedious to stay in so long i know by experience7 i haven[t?] been out except next door in ten weeks this street has been so full of ice and there is quite a quantity of snow in it yet but i shall try to go out soon i have been better of the rheumatism this winter untill a week or so ago i got quite lame in my knees so i could hardly get down stairs but i think i took cold going out to the privy getting my feet damp as the water stands in the path nearly all the time but every thing must be kept so scientific here i dont know sometimes how it is i hope there will never be any thing to annoy or disturb the manager i think sometims a person can be to particular Lou aint so nice about any thing but the appearance of the house that seems to be her hobby she has her girls come to see her quite often girls she used to work with they have to all be up here sometimes i dont feel like having them but there is no where else for them but in the kichen we had five here yesterday not all girls but 3 went away but one girl and her beau staid till 10 oclock)

well walt i beleive that will doo for gossip) poor jeff8 i want to write to him to day but i hardly know what to write to him i have the letter from hattie9 poor little girls i want to see them but i dont know when i ever shall i dont think it would doo to invite them here to stay) i thought by hattys letter maybey they dident like their new home but your letter says you think they are satisfied hattie dident say they was dissattisfied but she said the last few weeks seemed like a dream to her10 of course no place can be like home to them poor matt it seems as if i can hardly realize she is gone as her picture hangs here and looks so much like life it brings the tears to my eyes but i seldom speak of her i think walter dear you and me felt the loss more than any one else except her family of cours Jeff feels it more than any one else can but time will asswage in some measur if it wasent for that we couldent live throug our troub[les?]

you must write11 walter dea as often as you can) will you have to get some one to write for you walter or will the work make no difference dont worry walter dear


1. This letter dates to March 17, 1873. The letter bears no date in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, aside from her statement that she wrote on Monday. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter mid-March, and it is probably the letter that Edwin Haviland Miller dated only to March 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:370). A more exact date can be determined from numerous contextual clues. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had received Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman's March 9, 1873 letter and echoed some of its language in this letter to Walt Whitman. She had also received Walt's March 13–14, 1873 letter). Mid-March 1873 is also consistent with Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman's trip to Philadelphia, with George Washington Whitman's prospect of Brooklyn work, and with his plan to start building a house on the lot at 431 Stevens Street. The only Monday that conforms to all of these contextual matters is March 17, 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. 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]

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. A few days later Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that her son George Washington Whitman "aint like to get the brookly [sic] work" (see Louisa's March 21, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). However, George again traveled to Brooklyn on March 24 for the "prospect of getting the brooklyn work" (see Louisa's March 29, 1873 letter to Walt). [back]

6. George Washington Whitman was building a larger house on a 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). Louisa first reported George's purchase of the lot in her March 1, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman, and she described George's plans for the house in her April 8, 1873 letter to Walt. [back]

7. After his paralytic stroke in January 1873, Walt was confined to bed and then to his room for several weeks. He reported that he was improving "very slowly indeed." See his March 13–14, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

8. 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. His wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman died on February 19, 1873, from complications associated with a throat ailment. Jeff married Mattie in 1859, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had shared their Brooklyn residence until Jeff departed in 1867 for St. Louis, where he became Superintendent of Water Works. He eventually became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

9. See Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman's (1860–1886) March 9, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress). Hattie was the elder daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home with Louisa 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. Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman had written, "It seemes like a dream for this past three weeks Grandma." See her March 9, 1873 letter to Louisa Whitman (Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress). [back]

11. The three words "you must write" and the remainder of the postscript are inscribed, inverted, in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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