Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 14 November [1872]

Date: November 14, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00662

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:187–188. 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, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Thursday afternoon Nov. 14

Dearest mother1,

I send you Jeff's2 letter3 to me, just received.

Mat4 is better, it seems, & has put off journeying to Camden.

Jeff says it is doubtful whether she will come at all, unless she can have you go home with her to St. Louis.

Mother, just let the thing take its course, & not disturb your mind on the question of going or not going—It will be time enough to decide, when it comes to the point—

Mammy dear, I got your letter this morning—glad to hear you are as well as you are, & hope this will find you comfortable—All goes well as usual with me—Love to you, dear mother—& to all5


Mother, just as I was closing this letter, who should come in to see me but Margaret Avery6—she has been down to Virginia, and is going through Baltimore & Philadelphia—When in Philadelphia, she will come over to Camden & make you a call—probably within a day or two—


1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Mattie) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. In his letter of November 10, 1872, Jeff suggested that Martha go to Camden and accompany Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to St. Louis. Of Martha Jeff wrote: "Her chest and lungs both seem better now and if by [care?] I can get her in the way of taking some little food I have hopes she will get along yet." [back]

4. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 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 experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more information on Mattie, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was not entirely happy in Camden, for about December 3, 1872 she complained to Walt Whitman: "lou and george are very clever but i think they are a very saving couple. what they want to save so much for i cant see as they have no young ones but maybe its all right. george is so changed in regard to being saving but i cant get used to being so ecomical ." [back]

6. Margaret and William Avery, who lived in Brooklyn, were evidently cousins of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. They visited Walt Whitman in Camden on October 19, 1876; see Whitman's Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]


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