Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 8 June [1870]

Date: June 8, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00661

Source: Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde Papers, 1853–1892, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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, "6[9?]," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, Cathy Tisch, Elizabeth Lorang, and Nicole Gray

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june 81

My dear walt

i got your letter and you may expect i was glad enoughf to hear you was as well as you are in regard to your thumb2 i think the joint will get limber in time at any rate you have had a pretty serious time with it) george3 wanted me to write to him after i heard from you i told him if it was better i wouldent write) he went away on tuesday morning at half past 5 oclock he came home on friday the 3 and staid till tuesday he has been quite sick some would say very sick but he was pretty well when he was home all but his coughf and he thought that was leaving him he had a bad coughf when he was home before and after he went back it grew worse and settled in his side the first doctor he had dident doo him any good and then he had another a very good one that tended him he had things put on his side very powerfull he said his side was nearly cooked he must have been pretty bad coughf[t?] so bad nights but if he s carefull he will get over it i thin[k?] if i had known it i shoul[d?] have been worried enoughf he dont think the changes in the water department will make any difference to him it was one of the ring that wanted the republicans put out but the commisioners or some of them wouldent comply4 walt write if you took your new room or are you to your old place

good bie


1. This letter dates to June 8, 1870. The date June 8 is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1869. Bucke's hurried year on the letter's surface resembles "1864," but he intended 1869. Edwin Haviland Miller dated a letter from Louisa to June 8, 1870, though he assigned the June 8 letter to both the Trent Collection (Duke) and the Library of Congress (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362; 2:368). Ted Genoways accepted Miller's assignment of the letter to the Trent Collection (Correspondence, [1961–2004], 7:136). If Miller referred both times to the same letter but assigned it inadvertently to the Trent Collection in his Check List of Lost Letters (2:362), his date for this Feinberg Collection letter is correct.

Louisa inquired about Walt Whitman's injured thumb, and Walt suffered a serious thumb infection in spring and summer 1870. She also inquired about his thumb in five other letters. Louisa's letter also refers to George Washington Whitman's return to Brooklyn on June 3 as the previous Friday, and June 3 fell on Friday in 1870. George's departure for and return from Brooklyn on Friday are consistent with her June 1, 1870 letter to Walt, though then she had expected George to return to Brooklyn on Saturday (June 4). The actions of the Brooklyn Water Board and Louisa's concern that George could be dismissed with Republican-leaning employees are consistent with the early-June 1870 actions of a Democratic Party subcommittee, which petitioned the Brooklyn Water Board to dismiss Republican employees from the Water Works. The year 1870 is therefore near certain. [back]

2. Walt Whitman cut his thumb in late April or early May 1870, and it became infected. He referred to the injury in two letters from Brooklyn, a May 11, 1870 letter to Walbridge A. Field and a second May 11, 1870 letter to William D. O'Connor. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman inquired about or expressed concern for his thumb in this and five other letters from May or June to July 1870: May 17? to June 11?, 1870, June 1, 1870, June 22, 1870, June 29, 1870, and July 20, 1870[back]

3. 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]

4. The Brooklyn Water Board was reorganized in April 1869 with four appointed commissioners, two Republicans and two Democrats (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). The Water Works employed a large work force to pave streets and install water and sewage lines. The Democrat-leaning Brooklyn paper had reported a recent set of layoffs and relished the prospect that many politically active Republicans among those removed from their position could be easily replaced by Democrats. The paper published an appeal by the "Sub-Committee of the Committee Appointed by the Democratic General Committee" to the Water Board for a list of Republican employees who could be replaced by Democrats. William A. Fowler, president of Water Board, rejected the appeal ("The City Hall Today," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 1, 1870, 4). [back]


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