Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Mary Elizabeth Van Nostrand, 28 November 1890

Date: November 28, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: prc.00137

Source: Private Collection of Mrs. Walter M. Swertfager. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:122–123. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock




Camden, N. J.
Nov 28, '90

Dear Sister

I suppose you rec'd the paper I sent with the notice of Brother Jeff's1 death in St. Louis last Tuesday—typhoid pneumonia. George2 went on—(must have arrived there this m'ning)—Jessie3 went immediately the first train—but poor Jeff was dead before she arrived. Lou4 was in here yesterday. Han5 is poorly but around the house & sometimes just gets out. Ed6 is well. I am rather poorly at present—the grip, bladder trouble & (probably) catarrh of bowels (quite a snarl altogether)—but I sit up here—read & write. I suppose you got the magazine I just sent—Love to you and all & God bless you all.


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Mary Whitman Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they lived in Greenport, Long Island. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Minnie, Fanny, Louisa, and Ansel, Jr. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Van Nostrand), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1821)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 786.

Notes:

1. 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 figure. For more on Jeff, 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]

2. 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 several years 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]

3. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the second and youngest daughter of Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873). [back]

4. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt'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. Walt 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 Walt 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]

5. 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]

6. 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]


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