Skip to main content

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [30 November–3 December 1868]

 duk.00557.001.jpg about 1 Dec '68 My dear walter1

i2 have just got your letter with the order and am much Obliged and it comes very acceptable indeed i havent time to write much walter dear this time as i send a letter from heyde3 and hanna4 poor han she must have suffered much with pain and nerviousness5 i wish i could be with her but it is impossible at present as i have my heart and hands full) i hardly think they will come to washington6 if they doo they will send you word beforehand matty7 is gaining slowly but it affects her when the wind changes to east

no more this time walter dear


  • 1. This letter dates to no earlier than November 30, 1868 and no later than December 3, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to December 1, 1868, and Edwin Haviland Miller also assigned the letter the date of December 1, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). The letter addresses multiple family matters in common with other letters from late 1868 that are consistent with Bucke's and Miller's month and day: Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's presence in Brooklyn after arriving from St. Louis in late November, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's recent thumb surgery, and the diminishing probability that Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman will visit Walt Whitman in Washington. Louisa had mentioned Jeff and Mattie's possible trip to Washington in her November 25, 1868 letter to Walt, so this letter's update that their trip was no longer probable dates this letter a week after that November 25 letter. Also, Louisa's November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt, which offers further details about Hannah's thumb problems from Heyde's letter, is most likely to follow this one. [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. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister. They lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]
  • 4. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Louisa often spoke disparagingly of Charles in her letters to Walt Whitman. For the Whitman family's bitterness toward Charles and the stress that Hannah's health crisis introduced between Louisa and her son George, see Horace Traubel, Wednesday, January 9, 1889, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:499–500. [back]
  • 5. For the condition of Hannah Heyde's thumb, which had been lanced during a surgery in November by Dr. Samuel Thayer and would be amputated in December, see Charles L. Heyde's December 1868 letter to Louisa (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]
  • 6. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman switched subjects from daughter Hannah Heyde's thumb infection to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's possible trip to Washington. Louisa had written in her November 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman that "Jeff and she talks of coming to washington for a few days the first of next week Jeff will write to inform you what day they will come)." [back]
  • 7. 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 had arrived in Brooklyn from St. Louis for medical treatment and a holiday visit in mid-October 1868. Jeff joined his wife and children near the end of November, and they returned to St. Louis in mid-December. At the time of this letter, Mattie was being treated for the throat ailment that will lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., "Introduction," Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]
Back to top