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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [28 November to 12 December 1868]

 duk.00558.001.jpg 5 Dec 68 Walter dear

i2 write a few lines to say i received a letter from heyde3 yesterday they all jeff4 and all set in for me to send the letter to you and i thought i would last night but to day i thought better of it i thought it would only put you out of temper as it did all of us) he first began with saying hanna5 was so she came out to the kichen and eat her meals but she is very far from complete recovery she is very frail constitutionally yet her hand or rather her thumb by what he says is quite bad and the flesh scrinks from the bone) this may all be true probably is) then he goes on to say that she is better off with him that any change would not benefit her or to that affect with his highfullatin phrases) well now for the second act) he says he received a very stupid letter from Walt addressed to han6 which he humanely concluded not to deliver to her and then he goes on to quote the first part of the letter he says it ran thus) i suppose my dear sister  duk.00558.002.jpg you are by this time perfectly recovered and the next) what a stupid man and the balance he says7 is about nothing himself8 stuff i am out of patience let him stay in washington he has but small credit here i dont want to see him)

all this i have copied from his letter except where i marked above now walter what doo you think such a man is capable of doing i hope you have or will write to the Doctor and if you can go on there i should be glad matty9 says she makes no doubt the letter he kept from her was the one you spoke of her getting well enoughf when you came that she could come back with you i shall write to her and i shall write to him he is a very bad man very very but Walter dont lets think of him if han was away from him i should never want to hear his name again) we are having quite a snow storm to day here Jeffy and matty did think of going to Boston on monday next they will go to st louis is a couple of weeks it will be much the best for them and i shall be releived of a great care they will board martha is better than when she came but she cant doo much the children is trouble enoughf there is three girls down stairs and a jolly hous we have i tell you i am pretty well but get almost worked down

walt if you should get any wine10 send or take it if you go to han) write so i can get it tuesday and i will write again good bie walter dear


  • 1.

    November 28, 1868 is the earliest possible date for this letter, and December 12, 1868 is the latest possible date; the most probable date for the letter is December 5, 1868. The subjects of this letter are consistent with late November and early December 1868, both the matter of Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's serious thumb infection and the presence of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in Brooklyn. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to December 5, 1868, which fell on a Saturday. Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). December 5 is the most probable date, though the letter could fall a week earlier.

    The letter very likely precedes Charles Heyde's December 8?, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, which describes the surgical amputation of Hannah's thumb (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; Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, 2:72–73, n. 37). Walt's December 8, 1868 letter to Samuel W. Thayer, in response to Hannah's November 24, 1868 letter to Walt (Trent Collection), corroborates the assumption that this letter is unlikely to date before November 28 or after December 12 (Miller, Correspondence, 2:72–73, n. 37). As Louisa's letter seconded Hannah's request to have Walt write to Thayer in her November 25, 1868 letter to Walt, Walt's letter to Hannah, which Charles Heyde intercepted, and Heyde's letter to Louisa, which Louisa summarized in this letter, followed in rapid succession. Therefore, this letter from Louisa to Walt is from early December but not after Hannah's surgery. It is likely also to follow Louisa's November 30–December 3, 1868 letter to Walt, which offers further details about Hannah's thumb problems from Heyde's letter. It is possible (but unlikely) that this letter dates to the Saturday after Louisa's request to Walt to write Thayer (November 28), but it dates no later than the Saturday following Hannah's surgery (December 12).

  • 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 French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman often spoke disparagingly of Heyde in her letters to Walt: "i had a letter or package from charley hay three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them" (see her March 24, 1868 to Walt). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's youngest daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde. The phrase "began with saying" that precedes Hannah's name marks the beginning of Louisa Van Velsor's excerpt from Charles Heyde's letter, which continues on to the next page. At the conclusion of her excerpt, she wrote, "all this i have copied from his letter." Also see note 6 below for "he says," a phrase marked in the manuscript. [back]
  • 6. Walt's late-November or early December letter to Hannah (Whitman) Heyde is not extant. [back]
  • 7. Above the words "he says" is a mark that resembles a curly brace. Because the horizontal curved mark intersects the curved mark after the word "next" in the line above, it may seem that the intent is to insert the word "he says" after the word "next" in the line above. However, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman explains the mark five lines below; she has "copied from his letter except where i marked above." This horizontal curved line is Louisa's mark to indicate that she is not quoting these two words from Charles L. Heyde's letter: they are her own words rather than a quotation from his letter. The mark after "next" is her usual closing mark for a phrase, which functions rhetorically to close a phrase but may resemble a closing parenthesis mark or a vertical pipe. Though the closing mark after "next" and the curved line enclosing "he says" intersect physically on the page, their function is not related. [back]
  • 8. Louisa, who was transcribing part of Charles Heyde's letter for Walt Whitman, appears to have written over a false start. After the letter "hy," the start of Heyde's name, she wrote over those letters with the word "himself." Heyde's letter, which she was transcribing, discusses Walt. [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman also sought higher quality wine as a treatment for her daughter-in-law Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman after throat surgery (see Louisa's November 18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]
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