Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Mannahatta Whitman and Jessie Louisa Whitman, 20 December 1876

Date: December 20, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: mhs.00009

Source: Missouri Historical Society. 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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, Alex Kinnaman, Cristin Noonan, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley

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431 Stevens street
Camden New Jersey
Dec 20 '76

Dearest Hattie
(& Dearest Jessie too,)

Your letter1 came this morning, & not until we got it could we believe in the change—so different from what we supposed the programme was arranged to be, in St Louis, housekeeping &c. Dear Hattie, it is real lonesome here since you went away2—it is more a "receiving vault" to me than ever.3 Thank God though I am certainly better this winter, & more like a prospect for me physically, than for now nearly four years. (It will be now four years the 23d of January, since I was paralyzed)4 This makes me more cheerful & buoyant under the chilling atmosphere, (both moral & meteorological) of this house. Dear girls, I sometimes lately feel as if I was going out in the world, to take some hand again in some work that suits me, even if ever so little. Wouldn't it be a blessed thing?—You see dear girls I just talk freely & confidentially to you both—I want some one to talk to—& it does me good—

—Hattie, I have just got your pictures (after some delay) from the photographic printers.5 I will send you one very soon—& will send your father one, & your Aunt Hannah6 at Burlington wants one. Your Aunt Lou7 has one in the parlor already, & it looks very nice—it is a plain head only, looks like an engraving, no fixings or bows or jewelry, but a simple fine classical head, just as I wanted it—But you will see when I send it you.

Your Uncle George,8 Aunt Lou & Cousin Eddy9 are all well as usual. Tip10 is also well as usual—It has been & is very cold here—the ground is all covered with snow—but it is bright to-day. I have just been out about three blocks off in an alley, to see a poor young man James Davis,11 who is dying of consumption—You know I like to visit the sick—I have to stay in most of the time just now though, as it is very slippery—Little Helen Ewing12 is staying here now—

If I keep as well as now I think of going on to New York on a visit next month. Lou will write to you soon.

Love to you dear, dear Hattie, & Love to you, dear dear Jessie, from
Uncle Walt

Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873), Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) were both favorites of their uncle Walt.


1. This letter has not been located. [back]

2. After visiting their uncle Walt for four months, Whitman's nieces had returned to St. Louis on October 25, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). During their visit, on September 16, Whitman and Hattie had attended a performance of La Favorita at the Philadelphia Academy. Pasquale Brignoli (1824–1884), the Italian tenor, had peformed. On October 24, Whitman had gone to the Exposition in Philadelphia with Mrs. Fannie L. Taylor, of St. Louis, who had probably come to Camden to escort the young ladies home (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]

3. Prior to technological advancements and refrigeration rendering them obsolete, a structure called the receiving vault was designed for the purpose of storing dead bodies during the frigid winter months until the ground thawed enough to dig permanent graves. [back]

4. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]

5. Mannahatta's picture had been taken on October 25, and on November 12 Walt Whitman had paid a Mr. Spieler—possibly Jacob Spieler at the Charles H. Spieler Studios in Philadelphia—$5 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

6. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), youngest sister of Walt Whitman, married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a Pennsylvania-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Hannah and Charles Heyde lived in Burlington, Vermont. For more, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Whitman's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Whitman lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Whitman had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted 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). As a Civil War correspondent, Walt wrote warmly about George's service, such as in "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" (January 19, 1865); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and "Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with partner Mr. Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. Walt and George lived together for over a decade in Camden, but when Walt decided not to move with George and his wife Louisa in 1884, a rift occurred that was ultimately not mended before Walt's 1892 death. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. 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]

10. Tip was Whitman's dog. [back]

11. Little is known about James Davis, who was employed as "an oysterman." Whitman mentions Davis in his letter to Peter Doyle of December 27, 1876[back]

12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]


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