Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [15 or 16 June 1868]

Date: June 15 or 16, 1868

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00178

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.

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

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

tuesday afternoon1

My dear Walter

i2 have got the tuesday letter3 and two dollars all right the messenger did his duty this time if he never does it again4 if you get the chicago news5 i would like to have it i am alone so much evenings i like to have something to read i have been lying down a little while i dident sleep very well last night and i feel awfull stupid so i think i shall make out a stupid letter this time i feel pretty well) mrs Black6 brought me something to take for the rheumatism yesterday doctor bakers) prescription7 i took a little this morning but i dont think i shall take it he gave it to her for that complaint she is not very well part of the time she is quite miserable but goes around as usual she often wishes to be remembered to you she got my dress for me i spoke about it suits me very well plain black delaine8 fine and better than i could have got myself at present) i suppose jeffy9 is home by this time i got a few lines from him from Pittsburgh saying his affairs there was better than he expected as the foundry was going on with the engines i believe they had refused to make any more bu[t?] have concluded to go on they took the contrac[t?] too low i believe was the trouble) he said he might have staid here till monday as he had to stay there untill friday likewis[e?] i have had a letter from matty10 she is much better she says she had not been we[ll?] since she left brooklyn untill now she feels reall smart but poor sis11 [s?]he has or had when she wrote the chils and fever she dont shake when the chill is on matty says but looks so deathly she wishes she would have grandma s rocking chair wh[en?] any thing ailed her here she always wante[d?] the new rocking chair as she called it well walter your extra pay aint decide[d?] yet in to days paper but i feel anxious about it too i expect it worries you less than the most of the clerks but at any rate it would come good) george12 is pretty well he is to work at his inspectorship jeff says as long as lane13 is in the water works georgey will be) matt said i must tell you she had an envelope all ready directed to you and she would try sometime to put a letter in it and she would write to hanna14

good bie walter dear

i beleive smith has commenced making window frames for the house) french15 does the mason work his bill was 300 dollars less than the other masons his was 1000 and 50 dollar the other was much more16


1. This letter dates to June 15 or 16?, 1868. Neither the executors nor Edwin Haviland Miller dated this letter (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman identified the day of the week as Tuesday, and the letter probably dates to June 15, 1868. This letter must follow Walt Whitman's June 6–8, 1868 letter, which she received on June 9, a Tuesday. However, because Louisa had received Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's June 8, 1868 letter from St. Louis, this letter dates no earlier than June 15, 1868. June 15 is also consistent with Thomas Jefferson Whitman's recent departure from Brooklyn to return to St. Louis. Louisa acknowledged Walt's "tuesday letter," so she may have erred on the day of the week. [back]

2. 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)." [back]

3. Walt Whitman's June 15 or 16, 1868 letter is not extant. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's designation of Walt's letter as the "tuesday letter" may be an error, as she dated her own letter Tuesday. Edwin Haviland Miller did not list the letter Louisa received among Walt's lost letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:361). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had been annoyed for some time with missing letters: "it seems hard to get honest people in the post offices" (see her May 13–18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers to the Illustrated Chicago News, a periodical published by A. M. Farnum and C. A. Church that began a brief run on April 24, 1868 (see Frank W. Scott and Edmund Janes James, ed., Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814–1879 [Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910], 92). [back]

6. Mrs. Black was a neighbor of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Louisa also mentioned Mrs. Black in her March 11, 1868, March 13, 20, or 27?, 1868, and March 16, 1870 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]

7. The Brooklyn Directory (1868) lists only one Baker as a physician, George W. Baker. [back]

8. The fabric "delaine" is a light-weight printed wool fabric. [back]

9. 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)."

On June 4, 1868, Jeff began a trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, where engines were manufactured, and he intended to stop in Brooklyn before his return to St. Louis (see Martha Mitchell Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, June 8, 1868, in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1971], 54). [back]

10. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

11. Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother, and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Jessie Louisa inherited the nickname "Sis" after older sister Manahatta became "Hattie" and was sometimes called "Duty," but Walt often called her by the nickname "California." [back]

12. 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]

13. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. The connection between Lane and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, who had served under Lane before accepting the position of Chief Engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, led to George Washington Whitman's employment as a pipe inspector in Brooklyn. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her July 8, 1868 letter reported Jeff Whitman's confidence that George's connection to Lane offered assurance of stable employment. George's position with the Brooklyn Water Works became more tenuous in 1869 after the reorganization of the Brooklyn Board of Water Commissioners in April: Lane resigned after the new board was seated (see Louisa's April 7, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman). Lane later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer, and he again employed George to inspect pipe in Camden, New Jersey ("Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58). [back]

14. 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]

15. Two men known only as Smith, a carpenter, and French, a mason, were George Washington Whitman's partners in building houses on speculation. Walt Whitman described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to John Burroughs). [back]

16. The portion of the postscript that is written in the margin, beginning with the word "than," is not visible in the digital image but is visible in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, which is held at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas. [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.