Skip to main content

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [19 November 1867]


well Walt i2 have got your letter to day again3 the old letter man seemes very accommadating lately waits till he sees us come so the letters will be safely delivered i have been quite sick since george4 went away i dont think i ever had such a bad coughf before i dont know how i should have got the meals if he had been home my coughf is somewhat better to day i have had mustard plasters5 acrost my chest and i think it has done me good i feel the soreness of the mustard but the soreness and distress in my side is much better) last winter for all it was so very cold on the park6 i had to cover up my head to keep my ears from freezing i never had even a slight attack i had a letter from george) saying he arrived safe and was staying at present at the hotel but had been to phelidelphe and met one of his old army friends and went with him to try to get board at the same place with him but they were  duk.00508.002.jpg full of boarders so he hired a room in a private house for 3 dollar a week and has to get his meals as they dident furnish meals this is in phelidelphee they charged him 12 dollars per week at the hotel in camden and not extra at that georgy says he says he thinks he shall like his position very well he went to see perbasco7 before he went away and he perbasco went home last friday and went out to see george and inform him i suppose in the ways you know perbasco is in mr Kingsly s8 emplois now at i beleive 10 dolls a day i think mr Lane done it for his good will to george9 as there will be work there all winter and this where he was will stop and it was very bad cold ugly work purbasco says Jeff10 is having a great quantity of pipe made about 20 miles from camden11 and george could just as well inspect that and not neglect this in the least mr lane has wrote to Jeff and george wanted matt12 to write to him that george was there if he could put any thing in his way i told matt but  duk.00508.003.jpg whether she mentioned it to Jeff or not she said mr Lane had wrote to him but she would but walt if you write to Jeff you can speak about it) perbasko used to make as much as his wages they say inspecting for other parties as they are not engaged but a few hours in the day

we have had anna Vanwyck13 to see us and staid all night i have all the company now matt brings all her callers in here mrs Lane was here the other day last sunday evening mr and mrs marten14 spent the evening here came in their new buggy matty tells them all she only sleeps in next door i think sometimes it is pretty true i should think Jeff might tell by this time whether they will go or stay matt is well and real fat i tell her she lives so easy and sleeps so much) i dont know what to say about mooving i dont feel much like it at present i get along quite well now the new family dont make quite so much noise as they did i think they have got a carpet down and the old cradle dont disturb me so much  duk.00508.004.jpg they are all american people i believe mr Hamblen15 is gone bought a house and moved all his manufactory which was immence and we have a butcher below now but i would rather have half a dozen buchers than the soap making they appear to be very quiet people and clean) well Walter this is quite a long letter for a sick woman to write) oh about the portland ave lot mr smith16 would rather keep it and is going to try to buy the 15 feet of french17 and put up 2 brick houses for sale) and the putman ave lot is improving i went round there a few weeks ago to look at a house advertised the rent was so much i dident take it i stopt on the corner of Almond and was looking over at the lot and a gentleman come out of the livery stable i spoke to him about the blacksmith he gave me much information about the property he said the blacksmith lease is out next may but he thought he would get another lease any how he said he would do all he could to get it away he knew the young lawyer that owned the ground he said he wanted to build a house for himself his stables is only gentlemens horses to board) he said he only kept one coach those houses that is building is very good the price of them is 6000 doller and he said Almond place wont go thorough as he has tried to have it and wuld pay to get it through and that the title is good as he had a claim


at one time on the property that18 george owns and he said the title was good enoughf he said the father of this young lawyer gave him this lot where the blacksmith is and he letts him have it as he dont care for money he only gets 100 dole a year for it) he seemed very much like a gentleman he said there was no noise or any thing of the kind around his place) he owns 50 feet on Almond place

your two shirts Walt is here all safe when you come home chrismas

good bie  duk.00508.006.jpg

i am sorry walter you have had trouble with your head i was in hopes it would not trouble you but we have to take what is sent upon us) i suppose there will be stiring times to washington next week)19 george got the Broadway he thought the peice was very good20 they say the december galaxy will be out about the 20th21 O walt the 2 doll was in the letter come good i got the money for the check off george he took it after i signed it and got the money i had to pay for the coal out of it 7 dol and i owed the grocers some but i aint out of money and get along very well) people dont want to have children but i dont know what would become of me in my old days if i had none i believe i cant write any more to night good bie walter dear my love and regards to mr Oconor22

19 Nov '67


  • 1. This letter dates to November 19, 1867. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to November 19, 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). November 19 fell on Tuesday in 1867, the day of the week given in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Bucke's and Miller's date is consistent with the expected appearance of Walt Whitman's "Democracy" tomorrow (the 20th) in the following month's issue of the Galaxy 4 ([December 1867], 919–933) and with George Washington Whitman's having just acquired a copy of a recent review, Robert Buchanan's "Walt Whitman" (The Broadway 1 [November 1867], 188–195). [back]
  • 2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]
  • 3. Walt Whitman's letter is not extant. [back]
  • 4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army 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). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]
  • 5. Mustard plasters were a mustard paste that was applied to a cloth or paper, which was then applied to skin, generally with an intervening layer of cloth or paper. The paste, sometimes diluted, was typically applied to the abdomen and was held to relieve pain by increasing bloodflow or by drawing excess blood from the inflamed or painful area. Mustard, a strong irritant, would produce blisters if allowed to remain in contact with skin. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 297. [back]
  • 6. The previous year, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman lived at 840 Pacific Street near Prospect Park. [back]
  • 7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's spelling "perbasco" probably refers to Louis Probasco, formerly employed at Brooklyn Water Works, who is mentioned in Thomas Jefferson Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 8. Charles Williams Kingsley (1833–1885) was a contractor for the Brooklyn Water Works. [back]
  • 9. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. George Whitman's original connection to Moses Lane was through his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote to Walt Whitman on June 15 or 16, 1868 that "jeff says as long as lane is in the water works georgey will be." For Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see his January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff. [back]
  • 10. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]
  • 11. The pipe for the St. Louis Water Works was being made at the R. D. Wood Foundry in Florence, New Jersey. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, chief engineer at the St. Louis Water Works, had inquired of his brother, "did you see our 36" pipe and if so what did you think of them" (see Jeff's September 6, 1868 letter to George Washington Whitman). [back]
  • 12. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), 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 suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]
  • 13. Anna Van Wycke had boarded with the Whitmans in Brooklyn, and her parents' farm was near Colyer farm, which had belonged to Jesse Whitman, Walt Whitman's paternal grandfather. See Bertha H. Funnel, Whitman on Long Island (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1971), 78. [back]
  • 14. "mr and mrs marten" may have been John D. Martin, an engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works, and his spouse. See Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 26, n. 3. [back]
  • 15. Mr. Hamblen (or Hambler) lived in the same boarding house as Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In her August 1, 1867 letter, she described a terrible smell, which Mr. Hamblen blamed on the "privys" backing up on Pacific Street. [back]
  • 16. Smith, a carpenter, was a partner in George Washington Whitman's speculative housebuilding business. [back]
  • 17. French, a mason, was a partner in George Washington Whitman's speculative housebuilding business. [back]
  • 18. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may have stricken the word "that," but it is more likely that she wrote a single crossbar for both letters t, which though through the body of the word's letters was not intended to cancel the word "that." Her strikethrough method was generally more deliberate than a single line. [back]
  • 19. In early December 1867, the United States House of Representatives debated whether to take up articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson. The House impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868. [back]
  • 20. See Robert Buchanan, "Walt Whitman," The Broadway 1 (November 1867), 188–195. [back]
  • 21. Whitman's essay "Democracy" was first publishied in The Galaxy 4 (December 1867), 919–933. It was later incorporated into Democratic Vistas (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1871). [back]
  • 22. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866. Nelly O'Connor had a close personal relationship with Whitman, and the correspondence between Walt and Nelly 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]
Back to top