Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Orr Whitman, 12 July 1889

Date: July 12, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00597

Source: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 4:355–356. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Alex Ashland, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

Friday Evn'g July 12 '89

Dear Lou

Your card rec'd to day—Nothing particular or very new with me—Hot and oppressive here eight or nine days & I have been under the weather probably from it as much as anything—Keep up ab't the same tho'—am taking a tonic dose (iron & strychnia I fancy) prescribed by Dr Bucke1 to stave off the terrible weakness & faintness—& it does so—but it costs as much as it comes too—So far I eat & sleep pretty well, wh' of course is the greatest help—Got a card f'm Hannah,2 & have written to her this evn'g—I send my best love to Amy and Warren3—I wish I had something to send them—They are getting printed in a little book the speeches4 &c at my birth-day dinner5 & I will send you one when out—& one to Emma6 too—

I havn't been out this is the fourth day in the wheel chair7 but shall resume in a day or two—I am sitting here in the old den in Mickle st second story near sunset quite comfortable—

Walt Whitman

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).


1. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. 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]

3. Amy and Warren Dowe were the children of Emma Dowe, Louisa Whitman's sister (see Whitman's letter of July 12, 1877). [back]

4. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

5. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

6. Emma Dowe was Louisa (Mrs. George Washington) Whitman's sister. Her husband Francis E. Dowe operated dry goods stores in Norwich, Connecticut, from 1872 to 1918. A copy of the letter Whitman refers to was preserved by Mrs. Dowe's daughter Amy, who wrote "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans." This reminiscence, composed in the 1930s, has been published by Edwin Haviland Miller in "Amy H. Dowe and Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Review, 13 (September 1967), 73–79. [back]

7. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]


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