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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 November [1868]

 duk.00552.001.jpg Tuesday 1868 My dear Walter

i2 have received your letter3 to day although it was short it was better than none i am always glad to hear from you if its only a line i have to announce the death of little Charley man4 he died last thursday morning with the diptherea croup suffered very much so pressed for breath5 poor little boy it made me feel real sad he and Janey6 was up in my room on saturday and he set in a chair quiet so unusual for him he dident seem to be very well and sunday he was not so well and lived till thursday poor little fellow i miss him very much they had the funeral last sunday  duk.00552.002.jpg he was put in a casket lined with white satin cost 100 doller)

well Walter i have had a letter from Jeff7 and one from Matty8 the letter you sent of mine stirred them up9 matt said i wrote to you i dident know what i would do if it wasent for your letters the rest dident put themselves out to write to me she said she knew i meant them so now she will write every sunday i wrote to her yesterday) and to han10 to day and sent her one dollar and 25 cts) i have had a letter from her a good letter she says she shall come home she cant doo so well in fixing her things in consequence of losing her thumb11 i sent her a dollar the other time and i wrote for her to get her things made and i would send her some change every time to pay it she wonders why walter dont write to her as he used to when you write walter dear put a couple of dollars in the letter its better to not put much in a letter in these days there is so many broken open and robbed

good bie

has mr Oconor got home yet)12

george13 is away to camden


  • 1.

    This letter dates to November 10, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1868. Edwin Haviland Miller also dated the letter November 10, 1868 (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Bucke's and Miller's date is correct. The year is consistent both with the death of Charley Mann, whose illness is mentioned in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 2 or 3?, 1868 letter to Walt, and with the year (but not the month) in which Louisa's daughter Hannah Heyde's thumb was amputated.

    The letter is difficult to reconcile with Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's late-1868 visit to Brooklyn and with Hannah's surgery. Louisa acknowledged two recent letters from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Mattie, letters that were prompted, Louisa said, by a letter from Walt that "stirred them up." That both Mattie and Jeff would write to Louisa in early November 1868 is quizzical because Mattie began an extended visit to Brooklyn for medical treatment in mid-October 1868 (see Walt's October 25, 1868 letter to Jeff). Furthermore, it has been assumed that Mattie, who came to Brooklyn in part for medical treatment, remained in Brooklyn from her mid-October arrival until her return to St. Louis with Jeff in mid-December. Walt's letter implies the same when he described Mattie as "comfortably situated" (Miller The Correspondence, 2:68, n. 21; Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 60). But Mattie was unlikely to have remained with Louisa from mid-October to mid-December. Mattie in early November 1868 presumably returned to St. Louis (or visited elsewhere), which would explain why Walt's forwarded letter from Louisa could prompt a "letter from jeff and one from matty." Louisa's reference to Hannah's "losing her thumb" presents another complication for dating the letter. If the month and year, November 1868, are correct, Louisa cannot refer to the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb (in December 1868) but rather to its loss of use.

    The letter cannot date earlier than the election of 1868, when Charley Mann was noted ill but alive, nor can it date to the following year, by which time Louisa had moved to Portland Avenue.

  • 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 November 8?, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. [back]
  • 4.

    Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had written the previous week, "little charley down stairs is very sick" (see her November 2 or 3?, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman).

    In an annotation to the letter in Richard Maurice Bucke's hand, the surname of "little charley" is given as Mann. A March 9, 1873 letter from Mary E. Mann, presumably Charley Mann's mother, to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman confirms the spelling of the name is Mann.

  • 5. Diphtheria is a contagious disease characterized by acute infection of mucous membranes, primarily the throat and nasal passages. Croup, an infection of throat and larynx, is characterized by a ringing cough. [back]
  • 6. Charlie Mann is described as a "down stairs" neighbor in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 2 or 3?, 1868 letter. This "Janey" may have been a relative of Charlie Mann or Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's upstairs neighbor, Jenne Chappell, whom Louisa described in her March 6, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman as the wife of "the doctor." [back]
  • 7. The letter is not extant. 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]
  • 8. This letter is not extant. 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. 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]
  • 9. Louisa Van Velsor lamented missing money in a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and a lack of letters from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in her November 4, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman: "every time Jeff sends me any money its stolen i wrote three letters to maty thinking it so strange i got no answer." The statement seems the best candidate to have "stirred them up," if Walt forwarded her letter. [back]
  • 10. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]
  • 11. This letter, if the date is correct, preceded the amputation of Hannah Heyde's thumb, though she may already have lost the use of the digit. For the initial surgical effort to relieve the infection, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Charles L. Heyde in his December 1868 letter to Louisa described the surgical amputation by Samuel W. Thayer: the "thumb had been dead, at the extremity for many days[,]" and was "quite offensive" (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 225–226). [back]
  • 12. 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]
  • 13. 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]
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