Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 21 M[arch 1873]

Date: March 21, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00623

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, "21 March 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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M 211

My dear darling walt

i2 receeved your letter yesterday likewise the gra[ph?]ics3 i like them very much i should think they would be a sucsess i am in hopes walter dear you will soon be well again i am pretty well at any rate i work around full as much as i want to but of course its slow but i dont get much credit for it) but i dont care for that Lou s aunt4 is staying here at present she appears a clever woman but the best of it we have better grub as a general thing we live pretty saving but i suppose its all right i havent heard from Jeff in a long time)5 i wish walt you would send we an envelope directed to Jeff i get letters from hat[tee?]6 the last one she wrote said her father had been to kansas city but had returned (i suppos they get along pretty well in their boarding place7 but there is no place like your own home i hope when the girls get older so they can take the charge of a house jeff will keep hous again i suppose as things was it was the only thing he could doo) i think walt when folks get old like you and me they ought to have a home of their own but i try to be contented as i might be much worse off i have many little things to put up with but we all have our annoyances some one way and some another) george8 is good enoughf to me but he thinks and its all right he should that every thing Lou9 does is all right) george aint like to get the brookly work10 at present and that is a great disappointment george is a good man but i dont think i ever saw any one so change[d?] he used to be so generous and free but now he is very saving never goes out any where) so we go walter dear only try to get well once more)11

poor dear matt i think of her day and night but i very seldom mention her name walt matti was a kind daughter to me i have cause to regret her death)12

good bie

give my best Love to mrs oconor13

write as often as you can dear walt14


1. This letter dates to March 21, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to March 21, 1873, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:206–207, n. 44). The date "M 21" in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand corresponds to March 1873 because that date is consistent with the publication of Walt Whitman's "The Singing Thrush" in the New York Daily Graphic and with the February 1873 death of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Louisa's daughter-in-law. [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's March 19, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:206, n. 44). Walt had enclosed a copy of the March 15, 1873 New York Daily Graphic, which featured his "The Singing Thrush", in his March 17, 1873 letter to Louisa. [back]

4. 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]

5. 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 his February 24, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Jeff described the death of his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (see Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 158–161). Mattie Whitman died on February 19, 1873, from complications associated with a throat ailment. [back]

6. Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," was the older daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. After her mother's death, Hattie reported that "Papa will never write a letter he makes me write all the letters" (see her March 9, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress]). 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]

7. After the death of Martha Mitchell Whitman, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and daughters Manahatta "Hattie" and Jessie Louisa began to board with Mary Moody and Philemon C. Bulkley. According to Hattie, they moved on March 8: "Papa has a very nice room but I sleep with Minnie Bulkley a young lady about sixteen years old" (see Hattie's March 14, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress]). [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]

10. A week earlier Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had written that George Washington Whitman was away "to see about getting the brookly [sic] work" (see her March 17?, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). Despite this initial disappointment, George again visited a Brooklyn water commissioner for the "prospect of getting the brooklyn work" (see Louisa's March 29, 1873 letter to Walt). [back]

11. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]

12. 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]

13. After Walt Whitman's stroke, Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) made regular visits and assisted in nursing him. In his early Washington years, Whitman lived with William D. and Nelly O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to remain his close associates. Before marrying William O'Connor, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery movement and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Nelly had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Nelly is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

14. The sentence that follows is written inverted in the top margin of the first page. [back]


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