Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Helen E. Price to Walt Whitman, 2 February 1891

Date: February 2, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03546

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, 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.

Contributors to digital file: Heather Cooper, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, Tara Ballard, and Stephanie Blalock



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Feb 2nd 911

Dear friend Walt,

I have not written to you all these years because I knew there were many others waiting for a word or line and I could not bear to add even a feathers weight to your burden. I should not do so now only I think I am getting to feel a little hungry for a sight of your hand writing once more, and a few lines of remembrance and affection.

Mr Arthur Stedman2 came to see me several times last week and gave me lots of information about you and your surroundings and friends in Camden. That was all good and I was indeed grateful for it, but I want just a few lines from you if you feel able to write.

What a long hard hill and strain it has been for you the last fifteen years. My eyes fill with tears when I think of it. I knew you, as you know, in your splendid health and prime, and so realize the more keenly perhaps, what the loss of all that has been and is to you. I know you have had a poor spell lately. Are you growing better? Let me know dearest Walt just how you are.

We are all about as usual in Woodside. Emily3 and her family are prospering. Her oldest boy4 nearly 21 is with Arthur5 in Florida. He resigned from the Navy several years ago, and is very cheerful and contented in Florida on his orange grove; he writes me that he is a good deal of a Hermit down there. Abby6 has grown up into a beautiful young lady and quite accomplished in music. The twins are fine boys The one I have is a Stenographer in a lawyers office.7 He is truly the chief comfort of my life. Walter8 is a fine handsome little fellow now about 11, and crazy for horses; can ride horse back, drive a four in hand, and in fact cares very little for anything else.

I live very quietly in my little cottage, rent the lower floor and though I feel cramped a good deal sometimes by poverty, yet am thankful to be as well off as I am.

I was very much surprised to hear of Jeff's9 death. What was the cause? and are his daughters10 married? and where are they? George11 and Lou12 I should like to hear about them and above all Eddie13 Mr. S. told me he was living.

There is a matter that has come to my notice lately that I am very anxious to get at the truth about, and is one reason for writing to you now.

When you revised the matter for Dr Bucke's14 book15 at our house did you do so from the original documents or from proof sheets of the same. The letter he published written by you to my mother16 about the hospitals17 and sacred almost to me came back torn and mutilated A change was made in the wording and meaning of a sentence and the correction torn out. There was not a line or erasure anywhere else on the letter, though you made a number of changes yourself, I think from the proof sheets. Let me know please dear Walt what you remember about it It is important to me though I shall make no use of the information whatever. I only want to be sure that it was not you that multilated it.

Mr S. showed me the [large?]18 last edition of Leaves of Grass.19 Also November Boughs20 which I had not seen. How much is it a copy. I must have one.

Talking with him brought up the old times so vividly. When our dearest mothers were living and well. Those dear old days are gone never to return again. Ah me! Life is somewhat of a tragedy, is it not?

Write me soon if you feel able, dear Walt. I am so desirous of knowing that you are better


Affectionately
Helen


Correspondent:
Helen E. Price (1841–1927) was the daughter of Whitman's close friend, women's rights activist Abby Price. Helen wrote about Whitman's friendship with her mother in a chapter in Richard Maurice Bucke's 1883 biography of the poet and in a 1919 newspaper article. For more on Price, see Sherry Ceniza, "Price, Helen E. (b. 1841)," The Routledge Encyclopedia of Walt Whitman, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Routledge, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden N. J. It is postmarked: Woodside | Feb | 2 | 1890 | N. Y.; Camden, N. J. | Feb | 3 | 6AM | 1891 | Rec'd. There is a duplicate Camden postmark at the top of the verso of the envelope, but it is only partially visible. [back]

2. Arthur Stedman (1859–1908) was the son of the prominent critic, editor, and poet Edmund Clarence Stedman. Arthur was an editor at Mark Twain's publishing house, Charles L. Webster, where he edited a selection of Whitman's poems and a selection of his autobiographical writings for the "Fiction, Fact, and Fancy Series" (1892). [back]

3. Emily Price Law (1845–1920) was the daughter of Abby H. Price (1814–1878) and Edmund Price (1808–1882), and she was the sister of Helen Price (1841–1927). Emily married Edward M. Law (1842–1905), an engraver, and the couple were the parents of at least five children. [back]

4. Arthur Price Law (1870–1906) was the oldest son of Emily Price Law (1845–1920) and Edward M. Law (1842–1905). At the time of this letter, he was about twenty-one-years old and residing in Florida with his uncle, also named Arthur Price, who owned an orange grove. [back]

5. Arthur Price (b. 1840) was the son of Abby H. Price (1814–1878) and Edmund Price (1808–1882); he was Helen's brother. Arthur served in the Navy as the second assistant Engineer on the steamer Ossipee. After resigning from the Navy, he established an orange grove in Florida. In 1886 Price sent Whitman a box of oranges from his Florida plantation. (Edward F. Grier, ed., Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 2:832, note 42). [back]

6. Abby A. Law (1872–1954) was the daughter of Emily Price Law (1845–1920) and Edward M. Law (1842–1905). By 1910, according to the census for that year, Abby was working as a music teacher, and she continued to work as an organist as late as 1940. [back]

7. The twin boys are Edward Law (b. 1875) and Charles Law (b. 1875), the sons of Emily Price Law (1845–1920) and her husband Edward Law (1842–1905). According to the 1900 Census, one of the twins, Charles, lived with his aunt, Helen Price (1841–1927), and worked as a Stenographer; his brother Edward was employed as a Civil Engineer. [back]

8. Walter H. Law was (1879–1962) was the son of Emily Price Law and Edward Law. At the time of this letter, he was about eleven years old. By 1900 he became a Civil Engineer, and by 1920 he had moved to Rhode Island, where he continued his engineering pursuits, working in the Railroad industry. He married Frances S. Wilcox (1879–1955), and the couple did not have any children. [back]

9. 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 Matty) 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]

10. Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Whitman (1833–1890) and his wife Martha (Mattie) Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873) were the parents of two daughters. Manahatta ("Hattie") Whitman (1860–1886) and her younger sister Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. When Jeff Whitman passed away in 1890, Jessie was his only surviving daughter. At the time, she was not married, and she would remain unmarried for the rest of her life. [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death in 1873. During his mother's final illness, George Whitman and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman took over Eddy's care, with financial support from Walt Whitman. In 1888, Eddy was moved to an asylum at Blackwood, New Jersey. For more information on Edward, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Edward (1835–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

15. Price is referring to the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke's 1883 biography Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in the book.  [back]

16. 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). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Whitman and with Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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 in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor from November 15, 1863, Whitman declared with emphasis, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply." [back]

17. The letter from Whitman to Helen's mother, Abby H. Price, was written on October 11–15, 1863, and discusses Whitman's experiences volunteering in the Civil War Hospitals in Washington, DC. Whitman spent most of his time in Armory Square Hospital, and when he wrote this letter to Abby Price, he was visiting soldiers there (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., Walt Whitman, [Philadelphia: David McKay, 23 South Ninth Street, 1883], 38–40). The manuscript for the letter is held at The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the insertions appear to be in Whitman's hand. A draft of the letter is also held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress. [back]

18. This letter continues first in the left margin and then at the top of the first page. [back]

19. The 1891–1892 Leaves of Grass was copyrighted in 1891 and published by Phildelphia publisher David McKay in 1892. This volume, often referred to as the "deathbed" edition, reprints, with minor revisions, the 1881 text from the plates of Boston publisher James R. Osgood. Whitman also includes his two annexes in the book. The first annex, called "Sands at Seventy," consisted of sixty-five poems that had originally appeared in November Boughs (1888); while the second, "Good-Bye my Fancy," was a collection of thirty-one short poems taken from the gathering of prose and poetry published under that title by McKay in 1891, along with a prose "Preface Note to 2d Annex." Whitman concluded the 1891–92 volume with his prose essay "A Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads," which had originally appeared in November Boughs. For more information on this volume of Leaves, see R.W. French, "Leaves of Grass, 1891–1892, Deathbed Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

20. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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