Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [6] February [1870]

Date: February 6, 1870

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00173

Source: The Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. 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, "Feb 1," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Heather Kaley, Wesley Raabe, Natalie Raabe, Elizabeth Lorang, and Nicole Gray

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dear walt

i received your letter yesterday2 and the order and am very much obliged to you indeed the paper came to i was amused to read the account of the ball and the prince s manovers i should think by the account he behaved with great propriety and very good taste in his dress and his behavior)3 well walt Georgey4 aint home yet i havent heard a word from him since he went away the 1 of the month i think he might just write a line to me i expected he would be home last saturday but he dident come so i suppose he will be here this satur5

i haveent6 had no word from Jeffie nor martha7 since i wrote to you last week i sent a letter to Jeff yesterday neither have i had any word from han8 but that i dont think9 so strange of as she dont write more than once or twice in the year) helen price has been here and I gave her10 the paper with your peice in she was much pleased with it very much indeed she wished me to say to you she was obliged to you and received it as a christmas present11 she is working in that place i spoke about mr stitson12 i beleive his name is a lawyer of pattens she gets from to day 8 dollars a week she has had 6 she is glad she can earn something she has given what she has earned to her [mother?] but what she now gets she will get a nice black silk) i gess mrs price is like many others short of funds sometime walter my son this is the only envelope

i shall go down to the post office to day if it aint slipery

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)."


1. This letter dates to February 6?, 1870. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter February 1, 1870, and Edwin Haviland Miller did not list the letter in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The letter dates to approximately a week later than Bucke proposed. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was amused by an "account of the ball," which was held in New York in honor of a visit by Prince Arthur, seventh child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. [back]

2. At the time of this letter, Louisa remained in Brooklyn with her son Edward after the departure of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman to St. Louis. Her son George Washington Whitman continued to live nearby, though he was often away to Camden, New Jersey for his duties as an inspector of pipe for the Brooklyn Water Works. [back]

3. Prince Arthur (1850–1942), third son and seventh child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was posted to a rifle brigade in Canada from 1869 to 1870. Prince Arthur was named first duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the title by which he is now known, in 1874 (Noble Frankland, "Arthur, Prince, first duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1850–1942)," Dictionary of National Biography [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004]). The young prince visited Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, New York, in late January and early February 1870. He attended dinners and balls in his honor in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, January 27, in Brooklyn on Friday, January 28, and again in Brooklyn, on February 4.

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's comment was probably in jest as newspaper coverage tended to highlight the contrast between society's fawning attention to royalty and America's claimed republican virtue ("Prince does his duty," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1870, 2). A report on a Brooklyn Club Ball and Supper, held in the his honor, tends toward satire ("Royalty in Brooklyn: Beauty, Wealth, Worth, and Birth Colliding," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 5, 1870, 2). [back]

4. 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]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman shortened Saturday to "satur" because she had no room remaining on the paper. [back]

6. When interlining the "nt" for the previously written word "have," Louisa Van Velsor Whitman added an extra "e." [back]

7. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

8. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

9. Only the first four letters of the word "think" are visible in the image. The letter is pasted into a manuscript book, and the final letters on the edge closest to the binding in the page image are often obscured. Most of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman manuscript letters in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, held at the Harry Ransom Center, have obscured text on at least one page. Text from this page was recorded based on an examination of the physical volume, which allowed more text to be recovered. [back]

10. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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). 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 ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]

11. The copy of a Walt Whitman poem that Louisa Van Velsor Whitman gave to Helen Price, based on the reference to a "christmas present" and the date on which the poem appeared, is presumably "The Singer in the Prison" (Saturday Evening Visitor, December 25, 1869, 4). [back]

12. Helen Price's employer, the "lawyer of pattens," was presumably a patent attorney named Stitson or perhaps Stutson, but he has not been identified. [back]


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