Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [18 February 1869]

Date: February 18, 1869

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00637

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, "4 Feb. 1869 Brooklyn," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, Natalie Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang

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thursday afternoon1

My dear Walt

my letter is rather late this week i2 waited thinking i should have some word either from matty3 or hanna4 but i have no word from either george5 had a letter from jeff6 the other day he said matty was writing to mother but i have not received any7 as to han i dont expect any i thought when the box8 went maybee she would write a few lines i requested her particularly to write if only a few lines and that we would expect her to come this spring but i have not heard nothing since heyde9 wrote they got the box) sometimes i get so worried about her that it makes me quite unhappy10

i was sorry walter you have them bad spells with your head it must be very bad indeed) there is a kind of linement called cloroform linement11 it dont affect one in the least that is to stupefy but it is thought to be good for the neuralghy and rheumatism12 i got a 50 cent bottle and am rubbing my knee and hand with it whether it will doo me any good or not i cant tell yet i am pretty well now full as well as usual) george has got a bad cold which has made him almost sick but he has gone out to day he is not at work just now but has been) it is snowing at present like winter it thundered and lightened last night and rained so we must take it as it comes we have just got a ton of coal so we shant freese O walt how many mornings i think of you when we have buckwheat cakes how i wish you had some) the folks here goes on just the same dont seem to mind the loss of their father much13

my love to mr and mrs oconor14


1. This letter dates to February 18, 1869. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the date February 4, 1869, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 2:79, n. 10; 2:367). The date proposed by Miller and Bucke is too early, however, and the correct date can only be established by deduction. In her February 17, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman apologized for not having sent a letter even though her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in a letter to his brother George Washington Whitman had said that Mattie was writing a letter to Louisa (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 65–66). Though neither George's nor Jeff's letter is extant, the circumstances described in Mattie's February 17 letter match this letter exactly: George had received a letter from Jeff; Jeff reported that Mattie was writing a letter to Louisa; and Louisa had not received a letter from Mattie. Louisa did receive Mattie's letter by February 23, 1869 (see her February 23, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). Therefore, since Jeff wrote on Saturday, February 14 (three days before Mattie wrote), this letter to Walt was written on the Thursday after George had received Jeff's February 14 letter (February 18). Mattie's February 17 letter (delayed from the planned letter of February 14) is the letter that Louisa acknowledged in her February 23 (Tuesday) letter to Walt. This letter, composed on Thursday, was written on the Thursday preceding Louisa's February 23 letter to Walt, so it dates to February 18, 1869. [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. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff 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. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

4. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [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. 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. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

7. See Martha Mitchell Whitman's February 17, 1869 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, which explained why her letter was delayed (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 65–66). [back]

8. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman sent this gift box to her daughter Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde on January 14, 1869. For a list of the enclosed contents, see her January 19, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman. For Louisa's preparation of gift boxes, which Sherry Ceniza has designated "care packages" and compared to Walt's poetry, see Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 10–12. [back]

9. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister. They lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Louisa often spoke disparagingly of Charles in her letters to Walt Whitman. For the Whitman family's bitterness toward Charles and the stress that Hannah's health crisis introduced between Louisa and her son George, see Horace Traubel, Wednesday, January 9, 1889, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:499–500. [back]

11. Chloroform liniment is composed of equal parts olive oil, chloroform, and camphor spirit, a solution of alcohol and camphor. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 297. [back]

12. Neuralgia is a generic description for any type of nerve pain, but it was often used to refer to pains in the head and face. Rheumatism or arthritic rheumatism is joint pain, which was attributed to dry joints. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 704, 768, 782. [back]

13. The "folks here" and the "loss of their father" refers to the death of Thomas Steers (1826–1869) the month before. Margret Steers, her husband Thomas, and their four children Thomas (b. 1853), Caroline (b. 1857), Louisa (b. 1862), and Margret (b. 1865) moved into the Atlantic Avenue building in November 1868. Thomas Steers had operated a bakery, and his wife, who would become a close friend of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, continued the business when he died in January 1869. After Thomas Steers's sudden death, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman replied to a non-extant early 1869 letter from Louisa with concern that "Mr. Steers' death had quite an effect on you." George Washington Whitman later sold a property to Margaret Steers, and the property had title trouble with regard to unpaid assessments (see Mattie's February? 1869 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman, 66–67; Louisa's November 4, 1868 letter to Walt; "Died," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1869, 3; United States Census, 1870, New York, Brooklyn Ward 7, Kings; and Louisa's January 3–24?, 1871 letter to Walt). [back]

14. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen 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]


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