Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 16 April [1873]

Date: April 16, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00414

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), 2:213. 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, and Eric Conrad

Department of Justice,
Office of the Solicitor of the Treasury,
Washington, D. C.,
Wednesday noon, April 16, 187 .

Dearest mother1,

I have had one or two quite good spells—but am not feeling well just now—have got over to the office, & am now sitting at my desk—it is a rainy day here, not very cool—Mother, I have nothing particular to write to-day either—but thought I would send just a few lines, as you might like to get something—The season is quite advanced here—pleasant the past few days, I have been out in the cars every day. I have not written very lately either to Jeff2 or Hannah3

Well, Mammy dear, how are you getting along at Camden4—& how are Lou5 and George6—I often wish you were here, mother dear, as it would be such a relief to me to have you where I could see you, & talk a while—I think there is no doubt that, take the time right through, I gain steadily, though very slowly indeed—but I get many tedious spells, both of head & limbs—there seems to be great deal of paralysis—I hear, or read of cases, every day—One man here to-day told me of his father, who had a very bad stroke at 70 years of age, but got over it after all, and lived 17 or 18 years after, by great care—So I hear of many cases, some good, some unfavorable—

As to myself, I do not lose faith for a moment, in my ultimate recovery—though, as I said, I have some bad hours—sometimes very bad—Well, mama dear, I have scribbled out this sheet nearly, such as it is—I sent you a letter last Monday7—I have changed the address on the envelopes to you, mother, as you see8—is it right?—I am feeling better—my head is some easier—Love to you, dear mama, & all—



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. 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]

3. 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]

4. On April 12, 1873, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman complained that George "has never given me 50 cts since i have been heere ," and marveled that her son, who once did as he pleased, "gives the strictest account of every thing." Of Lou she wrote: "god forgive me if i judge wrongfully but i dont think there is much the matter." She was correct: Louisa was not pregnant. [back]

5. 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). [back]

6. 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]

7. Unaccountably, Walt Whitman deleted the following: "I hope you will have a pleasant Sunday." [back]

8. On April 12, 1873, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman advised her son not to send letters for her to George's office. [back]


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