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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [19 March?–14 May? 1871]

 duk.00608.001.jpg 3 april 1871 My dear walt

i write a few lines this beautifull morning to tell you our georgey and wife2 dident come yesterday i got a letter from him after i had fixed for them saying they would come next saturday i was sorry they dident come as i made some preperations for them) but perhaps its all for the best as i shall get a little rested i hope before that time as we are up side down as the mans is about moving3 i dont regret their going at all i shall try to get that room cleaned this coming week and get the bed in4 so maybee its for the best they didint come only i made more preperations than i should have done if i had known they wouldent have come

i am pretty lame have had quite a seige the last month or so) you will come home before long wont you walter dear

i wish walt you would send my money order as soon as you conveintly can any time this week will doo walter dear

your mother5


  • 1.

    This letter is nearly impossible to date precisely. Richard Maurice Bucke dated it April 3, 1871, and Edwin Haviland Miller dated it April 16?, 1871 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). Because the letter refers both to an expected visit from George Washington Whitman and his "wife" that has been postponed until the following Saturday and to "quite a seige [sic] the last month or so," a phrase that presumably refers to the departure of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman and daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa after an extended visit, the letter dates at least a week (and perhaps several) after the marriage of George to Louisa Orr Haslam and a few (or several) days after the departure of Jeff Whitman's family. One separate matter, the expected move of the Mann family, may suggest a late April date. However, these factors cannot be pinned down with certainty, so the letter could date as early as March 19, 1871, as late May 14, 1871, and to almost any Sunday in between.

    If George has a "wife" already, the letter dates no earlier than the Sunday that followed his marriage. George married Louisa Orr Haslam on either March 14, 1871 or April 14, 1871. Whitman scholars since Gay Wilson Allen have preferred the April date: see Richard Maurice Bucke, "Genealogy of Whitman Family," Trent Collection, Duke University, reprinted in Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 596. This assumption probably guided Miller's April 16? date for this letter. However, Allen's source, Bucke's typescript genealogy, is derived from a manuscript in Walt Whitman's hand, and Whitman's manuscript differs: Whitman identified March 14, 1871 as George's marriage date. See Walt Whitman, "Marriages," Missouri Historical Society, reprinted in Edward F. Grier, ed., Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 27. Bucke's notation on Louisa's March 7?–May 15?, 1871 letter to Walt also differs: there Bucke writes "George married March '71." An independent source derived from Camden county records also dates George's marriage March 14 (H. Stanley Craig, Camden County New Jersey Marriages, 1837–1910: Records Filed in the Office of the County Clerk [Merchantville, New Jersey: H. Stanley Craig, 1932], 133). As two independent sources, one in Walt's hand and one derived independently from county marriage records agree on March 14, the date of this letter, if to a Sunday just after George's marriage, is March 19 or March 26, 1871.

    If Louisa's reference to a "seige [sic] the last month or so" refers to the visit of Jeff Whitman's family to Brooklyn, their departure to return to St. Louis dates four to six weeks after their arrival. Louisa at one time expected Mattie and daughters to arrive in Brooklyn in early February: "we are looking for matt," Louisa wrote in her February 9, 1871 letter to Walt. The two-week discrepancy between Louisa's initial and later expectation of Mattie's arrival highlights the speculative quality of presumptions that have guided this initial assignment of the letter's date to March 19 or March 26, 1871. Questioning those assumptions undermines either of those possible dates. The phrase "month or so" may refer to the entire visit of four to six weeks by Mattie and family in Brooklyn, but another letter places Mattie and family in Brooklyn and on the point of departure for Camden with George. See Louisa's March 7?–May 15?, 1871 letter to Walt, which is assigned a most probable range of March 7 to March 21, 1871. If Louisa defined her "seige" as having begun after the return of Mattie and daughters from Camden, Jeff's family's visit could have begun in late February and continued for a few weeks before the departure to Camden. If Mattie and daughters departed Camden to return to Brooklyn on March 21 or so, their return could mark the new start as an extended month-plus visit to Brooklyn (the "seige").

    In addition, at the time of the letter Louisa expected the Mann family to move soon, and that expectation may date this letter to April 30, 1871, just before May 1, the typical moving day in Brooklyn. However, the most common date for moving is highly speculative if it cannot be corroborated by another factor. And it cannot be in this case. Ultimately, any factor cited so far may be independent of the others: the Mann family's moving day, the arrival of Jeff's family in Brooklyn, George and Louisa Orr's marriage date, the visit of Jeff's family to George and Louisa Orr in Camden, the start and end of the approximately month-long "seige," the separation of Jeff's family's visit into multiple stages, and the departure of Jeff's family for St. Louis. Therefore, the letter may date between possible marriage dates, from March 20 to 27. The full range of possible dates, given either of the two marriage dates, is March 20 to May 14, but the most probable date range—if Jeff's family has departed for St. Louis, their visit began in late February and extended for approximately six weeks, and George and Louisa Orr married on March 14, 1871—is April 9 or April 16, 1871, a week or so after Mattie and daughters departed to return to St. Louis. If the April 14 marriage date is assumed, the latest date, April 30, 1871, is preferred as it corresponds also to Brooklyn's moving day.

  • 2. 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 also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden, and he married Louisa Orr Haslam in spring 1871. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]
  • 3. May 1, when annual leases expired, was the typical moving day in Brooklyn. The Mann family—though Louisa Van Velsor Whitman usually spells their name "man"—lived downstairs from her at 1149 Atlantic Avenue between September 1868 and April 1869. Shortly after Louisa's arrival at Atlantic Avenue, a young child in the family, named Charley, succumbed to the croup (see Louisa's November 10, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). She mentioned the Mann family in multiple letters while at 1149 Atlantic Avenue, just after they moved in, but aside from this single brief reference she made no mention of them after her move to Portland Avenue in April 1869. This letter, by indicating that the Manns were moving out, suggests that they were either taken on as boarders in the Portland Avenue house that George Washington Whitman built as a residence for his mother or rented one of George's other houses. Louisa did remain in contact with the Mann family: her letter to Mary E. Mann shortly after the death of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman is not extant, but Mary Mann's March 9, 1873 reply indicates that Louisa had reported on Walt's stroke and on her residence with George and wife Louisa Orr in Camden. Louisa also inquired about the health of Mary, her three daughters, and Mary's mother. In 1873 the Mann family resided at 89 North Portland Avenue (Library of Congress, Harned Collection). [back]
  • 4. Though his letter is not extant, Walt Whitman apparently teased his mother about moving a bed to the front room (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 7?–May 15?, 1871 letter to Walt). [back]
  • 5. 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]
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