Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 24 April 1873

Date: April 24, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00472

Source: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 166-169. 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, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

St. Louis—
Apl 24th 1873

My dear Mother—

Your letter was handed me just as I was leaving the city to go to Kansas.1 I could not answer it then—nor did I have time to do so while there  I read it and sent it to our dear friend,2 as I knew it was very much desired.

Dear Mother, I can see by your letter that you still worry and think about Mattie, dear dear Mattie, and in this you are not unlike all of us. We all remember her—we all love her—and I above all others know how good, how true how brave she was—the blow is indeed a great one—yet I try hard to bear up under it. Dear Mother you speak of dear Mat as being very near to you—as being always in sympathy with you  Yes indeed was that true—not only to you but to all of us. You speak of receiving a letter from a dear friend—yes friend indeed—and one whom Mattie most dearly and sincerely loved—one whom—if you knew—you would find as near the dear daughter you have lost as two can be alike, in all things of affection love and truth—No doubt you will hear from the same person that I will explain when I see you  it would be unfortunate and create mischief were it known that you were receiving these letters. Mattie had talked so much to her, about you and about Walt, that she feels as if she knew you both personally—and indeed I think you would feel the same way—When assured positively that you alone read the letters no doubt you will hear oftener3

And about brother Walt—I am indeed pained to hear that he is not gaining as fast as he thought he would4—Walt is generally so patient too, under these things—I do so hope he is better—I wish you would write me whenever you hear from him—as he writes me but seldom—and I presume I do not write to him as often as I ought. I will endeavor to do better—Aand [sic] George and Loo and Ed I hope they are well—I suppose George is interested a good deal in his new house5—if I remember rightly the locality it will be a beautiful place in summer to live.

And your own health, dear Mother  I hope, now that the cold winter is over, that you may have some rest from the pains of your old complaint—the last I heard of you, before this past letter was that your hand and arm were troubling you again—does it yet continue? My health, and that of the Children continues first-rate  we get along nicely at Mrs Bulkley['s]6 and have everything that we can wish  I have been up to Kansas City for a few days doing some work the pay for which will come in very nicely just now.—nothing particularly new in regard to our own works in this city—matters go on about as usual—Mr Bulkley, I think, will go to New York, within a week or so—or within a month—he told me the other day that he should come back by way of Washington and try and bring Walt out to St. Louis with him—I hope he may and hope that Walt will be well enough and able to come—I feel quite positive that staying here awhile would do him good and perhaps bring him out all right much quicker than anything else he could do—If you write him speak to him abt it—I wish you could see the little girls—they would so like to see you—of course I suppose you are prepared to see them much larger than when you saw them last—yet I doubt if you imagine how large Hattie has grown—she is quite tall—and much stouter than she used to be—Jess of course is fat and I presume always will be—they both go to the same school and study well—they take music lessons—and have just completed their second quarter at the dancing school  but of all the great times and happy children you should see them on a Saturday—this is their great day—for on this day—ever since their Mamma died they have been in the habit of meeting our dear friend, whom they love with an affection second only to that they gave their mamma, and I honestly believe they get as much as they give, in return. This has been the regular Saturday programme for even a long while before our dear Mattie died7—and of course now more dear to the children than ever—for they go over all their little troubles—what they like, what they wish, and never could they speak to one more willing to listen, more willing to sympathize, more willing to help and aid them—If nothing prevents, and they are allowed to continue this meeting—it will be one of the great favors to both men and them—that sometimes comes on the heels of the greatest of misfortunes8

I enclose a small amount and let me say just here, that I am ashamed that I have not been more thoughtful in this respect—but what with Mat's sickness and my trouble with the works I have just about as much to think about as I can hold—I often and often promised Mattie that I would send [money] to you—but failed—not so much for want of means as for want of thought and care—and thus the more to be regretted  Do not fail to write me—and if you feel like it send a note to our friend, enclosed in the one to me—

Good bye, dear Mother and write me—Love to George Loo and all—

Affectionately Jeff


1. Jeff must mean Kansas City, Missouri. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 16 March 1873[back]

2. Almost certainly the Mrs. O'Reilly mentioned in Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 26 March 1873[back]

3. Given Jeff's discomfiture in writing about his "friend," his attempts to keep his mother quiet about her, his conviction that gossip about her would cause mischief, and his mysterious ways of alluding to her, it seems within bounds to infer that Jeff had a romantic relationship with Mrs. O'Reilly. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had probably already told Walt Whitman that she had received a letter from Jeff's "friend," for on April 20 (?), 1873, she wrote: "i got a letter the other day that frightened me  it was from St louis  i opened it and the first words i saw was dear madam dont be surprised at being addressed by a stranger  the first thought i had was that Jeff or the children had been attacked by that desease that has been so fatal in St louis the spinal disease but it proved to be a letter from one of matties dear friends" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

4. On April 19, 1873, Walt Whitman wrote Louisa Van Velsor Whitman that with shocks of electricity applied to his leg he progressed steadily but "very slowly, (& with an occasional bad spell)" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1978], 2:215). [back]

5. George was building another, larger house on a corner lot at 431 Stevens Street, Camden (Jerome M. Loving, ed., Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975], p. 30). [back]

6. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 24 February 1873[back]

7. Mrs. O'Reilly had been involved with the family for at least a year. On May 5, 1872, Hattie and Jessie had written to their mother, who was away on a trip with Jeff, that "Mrs O'Reilly is getting Mrs. Noland to make our dresses  she is going to make polonaise of it and an under dress" (Walt Whitman Papers, Library of Congress). [back]

8. Possibly Jeff is contemplating remarriage at this point. [back]


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