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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 30–31 August 1868

Dearest mother—

Well, here I am, sitting alone in the office, Sunday, writing again to you, dear mother. I rec'd your letter last week, all right. It is pleasant weather here, but warm—we had a heavy rain night before last, which laid the dust. There is nothing new with me, or in the office. Mr. Evarts1 still remains away, up on his farm at Windsor, Vermont, with his family. Ashton2 runs the office—Mrs. A. returned to Washington last evening, after two months' absence—she left her little boy in New York—she is not well.

The O'Connors expect to move the coming week—They have got a nice little new house, two story, five rooms—it is about four or five blocks from where I live—they pay $30 a month—They are all well as usual—the Burroughs's the same—

You would be amused to see some of the visitors I have now & then—One was a middle-aged, brown-complexioned lady, a great spiritualist & lecturess—she broke off in the midst of the conversation—then after a while told me that she had been spoken to by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and begged me to excuse her, as she wanted to talk with that sperit—I politely told her I would excuse her under the circumstances—& off she went.

Then another day a tall well-drest man, a perfect stranger, came, & said he had seen a good deal about me in the papers—said he had been an officer in the army—& wanted me to get him a place under government, as he was hard up—I got rid of him as gently as I could—but yesterday he came again & wanted me to let him have $10!—So you see my official life, with all its monotony, is not without a little fun, now & then, for a change.

Then I must tell you that a lady, a Mrs. McKnight,3 looks & acts quite a good deal like our Mary, has called upon me, a few days since—& I will tell you what for. She is quite a portrait painter, & very ambitious of being a first-rate artist. At present she seems to be tolerably good. Two of her pictures I have seen, are real good—Well she wants to make a portrait of my beautiful countenance for herself to keep, & came to ask me to sit for her—Well I consented—but don't think I shall begin until I return from my leave—So you see I have visitors & applications of all sorts—

Well, mother, it is the last day of summer—we have had it very hot & melting here for two or three days—but there is a cool fresh breeze blowing in here, as I finish my letter—it is quite pleasant, as we have had some fine showers lately—I hope this will find you feeling well & in good spirits, dearest mother. Love to Georgy & all—



  • 1. William Maxwell Evarts (1818–1901) was chief counsel for Andrew Johnson during the impeachment trial of 1868. As a reward for his services, Johnson appointed Evarts Attorney General later in the year; Evarts was Secretary of State from 1877 to 1881 and U.S. Senator from New York from 1885 to 1891. [back]
  • 2. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs, and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
  • 3. The 1869 Washington Directory listed Mrs. Sarah R. McKnight, artist; see also Walt Whitman's address book (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #109). Since Walt Whitman did not subsequently refer to her, it is doubtful that he sat for his portrait. [back]
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