Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, [1]–2 [April 1873]

Date: April 1–2, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00339

Source: The Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:210–211. 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, Ashley Lawson, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

Tuesday afternoon, 2 o'clock

Dearest mother1,

I am writing this over at the office—I have made a sort of commencement of my work to-day —I have rec'd this note (enclosed) from Lillie Townsend2—Mother, I believe I will write them a few lines, soon—(What is Aunt Sally's3 name—is it Sarah Pintard)4—when you next write tell me—I am feeling quite well—(only easily put out with my head)—I have been in the office nearly three hours to-day, & have got along comfortable—I can only move slowly yet—cannot walk any—at least any distance—

Wednesday, April 2.

Mother, I am over at the office—feel rather slim to-day—but the weather is so pleasant, I shall feel better I think—Your letter has just come, & I am glad as always to hear from you all—you say George's5 house is commenced, the cellar begun—I like to hear all about its progress—

I see in the papers this morning an awful shipwreck yesterday night6—seems to me the worst ever happened, a first-class, big steamship from England, went down almost instantly, 700 people lost, largely women & children, just as they got here, (towards Halifax)—what misery, to many thousand relatives & friends—Mother, I send you the Graphic—the pictures are amusing7—(I thought I would write a line to the Townsends8, mostly on Aunt Sally's account, as it may humour her)—

Well, mother, I believe that is all to-day —I hope this will find you feeling well & in good heart, dearest mother—Love to Brother George & Sister Lou—



1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Lillie Townsend was, like Priscilla Townsend (see Whitman's April 21, 1873 letter to his mother), presumably a cousin of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

3. Sarah "Sally" Mead was the aunt of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) and Walt Whitman's maternal grandmother's sister. By 1873, Mead was more than 90 years old. [back]

4. Walt Whitman was understandably confused about the relationship. Sarah Mead and Phebe Pintard were sisters (born Williams) and his maternal grandmother's sisters. Mead was at the time over ninety years old, but Pintard had been dead for several years. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman of April 3, 1873, and Walt Whitman's jottings dated November 20, 1873 (The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

5. 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]

6. The first reports of the sinking of the steamship Atlantic spoke of the loss of 700 lives. On April 3, 1873, the New York Times noted that the number was 546. Later a board of inquiry attributed the disaster to dereliction of duty on the part of the captain. [back]

7. The New York Daily Graphic took pride in its illustrations of topical happenings.

The New York Daily Graphic published a number of Walt Whitman's poems and prose pieces in 1873 and 1874. In the former year the Daily Graphic printed the following works: "Nay, Tell Me Not To-day the Publish'd Shame" on March 5, 1873; "With All the Gifts, America" on March 6, 1873; "The Singing Thrush" (later titled "Wandering at Morn") on March 15, 1873; "Spain" on March 24, 1873; "Sea Captains, Young or Old" (later called "Song for All Seas, All Ships") on April 4, 1873; "Warble for Lilac-Time" on May 12, 1873; "Halls of Gold and Lilac" on November 24, 1873; and "Silver and Salmon-Tint" on November 29, 1873. In 1874, the Daily Graphic printed "A Kiss to the Bride" on May 21, 1874; "Song of the Universal" on June 17, 1874; and "An Old Man's Thought of School" on November 3, 1874. [back]

8. Here Walt Whitman refers to Priscilla and Lillie Townsend, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's cousins. [back]


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