Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [10–15 April 1873]

Date: April 10–15, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00625

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, "12 April 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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My dear walt1

i2 have just receeved your letter this stormy morning with the dollar in sometimes i want a little change but dont send it only once in a while) i have thought walter dear that you must have had more expence since you have been sick than you had before but there dont seem to be any consideration edds board3 is expected just the same

i have got the 2 other letters)4 you needent direct them to george5 and the foundry without you would rather as the letter man always brings them george is not there half of the time as he has work for mr Lane6 at florence and glowcester7 he gets his 8 dollars a day from the new york work) there is a large contract from boston given out to the gloster foundr[y?] george thinks he will get the inspecting of it it is about 4 miles from here so you see walt the more we have the more we want) i suppose if i needed george would help me but he has never given me 50 cents since i have been heere

i dont think but what i am welcome here from george Lou8 sometimes says when she and george was alone they got this and that but now theres so many

a woman can doo very much to have a man think different from what things really is

george is more changed in some respects than i could ever beleive he gives the strectest account of every thing and if he goes out you wont be gone more than 10 minutes it seemes so strange for him as he always went when he preased and come when he liked) aunt Lib9 as they call her is here and i gess will be here for some tim Lou says george likes to have her here i like her well enoughf i think likely she will make her home here) Lou hasent been down stairs since last tuesday till this morning10 george carried her down he carr[ies?] her up and down then she goes out in the kichen

god forgive me if i judge wrongfully but i dont think there is much the matter

dear walt you mustent think i complain but i think if i had sombody to talk a little with i should feel releeved so i have to bother you with my gossip good bie walter dear you must write often i was going to write to you to send an envelope for Jeff11 georges house12 is going on there is a cellar under the whole [hous?] and a bay window is Lou s bed room) and built for 37 hund[rd?]) instead of 38


1. This letter dates to between April 10 and April 15, 1873. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter April 12, 1873, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:213, n. 63; 370). The letter may date April 12, but the date can only be established to within a range of a few days. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter instructs Walt Whitman that he need not direct letters to George Washington Whitman's office. Walt in his next letter asked, almost certainly in response to this request, whether the new address that he used was correct (see his April 16, 1873 letter to Louisa). Walt's letter does not establish April 12 as the definite date for this letter, but a few days before April 16, 1873 is consistent with Louisa's earlier report that George's wife Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, who was believed pregnant, had not come down the stairs for several days. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote in her April 8, 1873 letter to Walt that "she dident come down stairs all day monday)." Louisa wrote in this letter that her daughter-in-law has not come down stairs "since last tuesday." The two letters, taken together, place Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman upstairs without coming down from Monday or Tuesday (April 7 or 8) through the date of this letter. The range of dates for this letter is thus no earlier than April 10 and no later than April 15. Bucke's date April 12 falls near the midpoint of the range and may be derived from an envelope or other external marking, so it has the highest probability among the range of dates. [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. 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. His brother George Washington Whitman cared for him for most of the rest of his life, with financial support from Walt Whitman. Walt reported he would soon send a monthly payment of $20 in his February 26, 1873 letter. [back]

4. Walt Whitman's most recent extant letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was that of April 6–7, 1873, so it is probable that two letters from Walt to his mother, April 11, 1873, and another, are not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:212; 363). [back]

5. Walt Whitman had previously addressed his letters to George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) at Star's Foundry (Walt wrote "Starr's") in Camden, New Jersey (see his March 1, 1873 letter to Manahatta Whitman).

George 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. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

6. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to May 1, 1869. The connection between Lane and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, who had served under Lane before accepting the position of Chief Engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, led to George Washington Whitman's employment as a pipe inspector in Brooklyn. Lane later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. [back]

7. George Washington Whitman in early 1873 was employed at Star's Foundry in Camden, New Jersey, but he was probably inspecting pipe for Moses Lane, chief engineer of the Milwaukee Water Works (see note above), at the R. D. Wood Foundry sites in Camden and Florence, New Jersey. The Gloucester Iron-Works was an enterprise founded by directors formerly associated with Star's Foundry in 1864, and it 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]

8. 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]

9. The "aunt Lib" or "aunt Libby" who was engaged to assist Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman has not been identified but was probably named Elizabeth. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman described her daughter-in-law Louisa Orr's aunt as English, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was not fond of the aunt's company: "i wouldent be very sorry if aunty wasent here" (see her April 21–May 3?, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). The aunt is designated "aunt Libby" in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 21, 1873 letter to Walt. [back]

10. Approximately a week earlier Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that George Washington Whitman's wife Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman was "in the family way they think so still" and that "they wont let her hardly move yesterday she dident come down stairs all day monday)" (see Louisa's April 8, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

11. 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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had shared a home with Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman for several years before their departure to St. Louis. The death of Mattie on February 19, 1873 was a devastating emotional blow to Louisa (see Jeff's February 24, 1873 letter to Louisa 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; and see Louisa's February 27, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman). For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

12. 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). For an extended description of George's planned house, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 8, 1873 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]


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