Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [5? April 1873]

Date: April 5?, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00628

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, Alex Kinnaman, Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Caterina Bernardini

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My dear walt1

i received your letter to day walt its a great consolation to get your letters nearly all the comfort i have) as i have no one to talk too about any of my own i get letters from helen price2 real good ones she is more like our own folks than any one else except you) O walt i doo want you to get well so much) well walter dear you remember i told you saturday i would give you an account of our affairs) well walt i should never have made any complaint if you hadent have wrote to me you should certainly get a place for you and edd and me i hope you may succeed walter i have not been very happy here but i thought you had trouble enoughf without hearing mine they think Lou3 is in the family way and therefore she has to be kept up stairs in my room and waited upon by her aunt4 her vituals took up and the aunt is very faithful and the doctor comes one day twice and after eating she comes down stairs and she says george5 wants her aunt to stay they pay her wages) i have been down in the kichen ever since i got up this morning till i come up to writ this letter i have had very little good of my room this winter as they have all lived an[d?] had all their company up here sometimes it was very disagreable to me but i have lived through all the annoyances some real and som[e?] immaginary but sometimes i felt in hopes but walter dear i wont say any more but i pray and hope you may get well and we can have a home of our own if its ever so plain) you pay 20 dollars here every month i think we could live on 40 that would be for provitions and if i should get sick i should much prefer being with you walter than here as i have many friends that would only be too glad to come and care for me i know i cant work like i once could but i doo more here than i feel able to i have been pretty well until lately i have not had much appetite but i will feel better i gess i have got nervious dont write any thing walter to make them think i complained maybe i had not ought to but little things cuts sometimes the aunt is eng[lish?] and Lou is english and i am very sensitive and george is absorbed in his business

george has commenced his house6 the cellar is being dug he builds quite a large house is to be done abou[t?] august or7 if i could or you could get a place by that time i dont think walter it would cost you more to live than it does now

good bie walter dear

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)."


1. The date of this letter is uncertain, but the most probable date is April 5, 1873. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter acknowledges one from Walt Whitman, probably his April 4, 1873 letter, and Edwin Haviland Miller dated this letter April 5?, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:208, n. 47; 2:370). Louisa responded to Walt that he "should certainly get a place for you and edd and me": the word "certainly" echoes Walt's remark on acquiring a house in Washington from his letter, that he "shall certainly do so." Walt had also mentioned a house in his March 28, 1873 letter to Louisa. Louisa's statement on the house is consistent also with the timing of George Washington Whitman's new house on 431 Stevens Street: in this letter, she wrote that "george has commenced his house the cellar is being dug." A week later she reported that George's "house is begun the cellar dug and the foundation laid" (see her April 8, 1873 letter to Walt). Therefore, April 5, 1873 is the most probable date for this letter. However, Louisa also wrote, "i told you saturday i would give you an account of our affairs," a statement that cannot be reconciled with Louisa's March 29, 1873 (Saturday) letter to Walt, which has no such promise. Despite that inconsistency, Louisa's discussion of the prospective house that they could share in Washington echoes Walt's April 4, 1873 letter, and her account of George's progress on his new Camden house is in accord with her April 8 letter to Walt. [back]

2. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

3. 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]

4. The "aunt" who was engaged to assist Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, George Washington Whitman's wife, has not been identified but is probably named Elizabeth. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman described her daughter-in-law Louisa Orr's aunt as English and was not fond of the aunt's company. She is named "aunt Lib" and "aunt Libby" in Louisa's April 10–15, 1873 and April 21, 1873 letters to Walt. [back]

5. 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]

6. The postscript is inverted on the first page.

George Washington Whitman was building a 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]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote the word "september" and struck it out. She neglected to strike through the preceding word "or." [back]


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