Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, [13]–14 [February 1873]

Date: February 13–14, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00411

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:197–198. 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, Zachary King, Eric Conrad, and Nicole Gray

Thursday night
8 o'clock

Dearest mother,

It is a dismal winter snow storm outside, and as I write I am sitting here by a good wood fire in the stove—have been alone all the evening—I sit up as much as I can, especially evenings—as I sleep better afterwards—I rec'd a letter from Jeff1 to–day,2 Matty3 was as well as at last accounts—about the same—no worse—I also rec'd a letter from Heyde4—he said Han5 was well as usual—

I have been sitting up nearly all day—& have less distress in the head than I have had—which is a great gain—I had a letter from Mrs. Price6 to–day—she invites me to come & stop awhile there, as soon as I can journey—

Mother, it is kind of company to write to you—it is very lonesome to sit here all the evening in my room—about 9 Charles Eldridge7 comes in & assists me to soak my feet in hot water, & then I turn in—(I have my trowsers on this evening, first time in 3 weeks)—

Friday noon Feb. 14

Mother, I am sitting up again to–day—passed a comfortable night, & as soon as it is favorable weather I shall try to get started for outside—first, to get down stairs—& then perhaps across the street—

3 o'clock

I have just got a letter from Jeff, which I enclose as it is the latest—Mrs. O'Connor8 has just been to see me—brought a basket of nice things—

Mother dear, I hope you will have a pleasant Sunday—I send you Harper's9 & Frank Leslie's10—I am having a very fair day to–day—it is moderate & pleasant here, but mostly cloudy—I have been quite occupied writing several letters about business11—have set up all day, with the exception of an hour—Love to you, dear mother,


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).


1. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Mattie) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 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). [back]

2. Jeff wrote on February 11, 1873, both to Walt Whitman and to his mother (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Jeff still hoped, since he did not appreciate the gravity of Walt Whitman's illness, that his brother would be able to visit Martha. [back]

3. 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]

4. Heyde's letter to Walt Whitman is not extant, but on February 6, 1873, he wrote to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman most solicitously about Walt's illness (The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

5. 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]

6. 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). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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 in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor on November 15, 1863, Whitman declared, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply." Gay Wilson Allen notes that Edmund Price owned a pickle factory on Front street, where the Whitmans had resided, and he speculates that Whitman became acquainted with Abby through her speaking and writing for reform movements. See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer, (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 199. [back]

7. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge helped Whitman gain employment in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. In 1872 Whitman and William strongly disagreed on the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William moved out. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

9. Harper's Monthly Magazine (sometimes Harper's New Monthly Magazine or simply Harper's) was established in 1850 by Henry J. Raymond and Fletcher Harper. The magazine published several of Walt Whitman's poems, including "Song of the Redwood-Tree" and "Prayer of Columbus." In 1857, Fletcher Harper founded Harper's Weekly (subtitled "A Journal of Civilization"), which gained its fame for its coverage of the Civil War and its publication of cartoonist Thomas Nast's (1840–1902) work. For Whitman's relationship with these two publications, see "Harper's Monthly Magazine" and "Harper's Weekly Magazine." [back]

10. Frank Leslie's Weekly, published from 1852 to 1922, was an American literary and news magazine published by engraver Frank Leslie (1821–1880). The magazine was notably patriotic in its reporting, particularly on military conflicts like the Civil War and the First World War. [back]

11. These letters are not known; probably Walt Whitman wrote to some of the dealers who handled his books. [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.