Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 26 January [1873]

Date: January 26, [1873]

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00260

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 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, "1873?," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Jonathan Y. Cheng, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock



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26 Jan.
Sunday afternoon

Dearest mother,

I have been not well for two or three days, but am better to-day. I have had a slight stroke of paralysis,1 on my left side, and especially the leg—occurred Thursday night last, & I have been laid up since—I am writing this in my room, 535 15th st as I am not able to get out at present—but the Doctor gives me good hopes of being out and at my work in a few days—He says it is nothing but what I shall recover from in a few days—

Mother you must not feel uneasy—though I know you will—but I thought I would write & tell you the exact truthneither better nor worse

—I have a first rate physician, Dr. Drinkard2—I have some very attentive friends,3 (& if I have occasion can & will telegraph to you or George4—but do not expect to have any need)—

I have had no word from St Louis5 or any where by letter for some days— The weather here is mostly stormy & cold the last week. I rec'd your last letter with Jeff's6—it is ½ past one—Lizzie7 the servant girl has just brought me up some dinner, oyster stew, toast, tea, &c, very good—I have eaten little for two days, but am to-day eating better—I wrote8 to Mat9 early last week—

Later—I have been sitting up eating my dinner—

Love to you, dearest mother, & to George & Lou10
Walt

I will write again middle of the week—


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. After his paralytic stroke in January 1873, Walt was confined to bed and then to his room for several weeks. He reported that he was improving "very slowly indeed." See his March 13–14, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]

2. Dr. William Beverly Drinkard (b. 1790) was a physician who treated Whitman in the early 1870s after his debilitating stroke. According to the British Medical Journal of August 5, 1865, a William Beverley Drinkard, listed as associated with Trinity Square in Southwark, was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons of England on July 27, 1865. By 1890, Walt Whitman still considered Drinkard "the best Doctor that ever was": he "seemed to understand me well: he charged it to the emotional disturbances to which I was subjected at that time" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, April 1, 1889, 472). [back]

3. Following his stroke of paralysis, Whitman's friends in Washington, D.C., helped to care for him: John Burroughs, Peter Doyle, and Ellen O'Connor. [back]

4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was Walt's brother and the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He was ten years Walt Whitman's junior. 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]

5. Whitman is referencing his brother's family. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, and their two daughters lived in St. Louis, where Jeff had relocated in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. 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). For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

6. Jeff's letter of January 14, 1873, to his mother described his wife Martha's illness: "her great trouble is her lungs—and I fear she is failing not fast but surely in this" (The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

8. This letter has not been located. [back]

9. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 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 experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more information on Mattie, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. For more information on Louisa, 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]


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