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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [16 March 1870]

 yal.00309.001.jpg dear Walt

i will resume my corresspondence again haint you missed my letters very much i am quite glad to resume again2 well maty3 is gone she started monday at 5 oclock i suppose if she has met with no delays she is home to night we miss her very much although we have had company every day this week helen price4 was here on monday and mrs Black yesterday5 and a lady to day has just gone after staying to tea and i got it with such pain that i could hardly keep from groaning the matter is i have been on my feet so much lately that i have suffered very much and to day i thought i would keep still and try to get rested but i shall go to bed soon and try to rest we have had quite a number of people to see matt but  yal.00309.002.jpg only called mrs Lane and mrs kirkwood they only called)6 but we had anna vanwyk7 2 days last week and altogether i got kind of worked down but i shall get rested now i think it was much better for matt to not go to washington8 this winter but she made such preperations for it that she could hardly give it up say to mrs Oconor that marthe thanked her for her kind letter and will write to her as soon as she gets a little rested from he journy remember me also to mr and mrs Oconor and Jennie also9 martha was very much better when she left than when she came you cant think how she improvee before she went away she had a good appetite when she came she could not eat but very litle the doctor sounded her lungs with rather favorable result her left lung is good and three fourths of the right one) it had not made such progress as he anticipated) she slept up stairs but had no fire except the very cold nights as it made her coughf) she wants to come out there without fail) davis has been here10 on his way to lowel he said he never was in a place he liked so well as st louis11


matt has a beautifull gold watch Jeff got that before he left12 and a large plated ice picker and lots of things and left her 40 dollars well matt like she see so many things she wanted that she got through with all the money george13 was to let her have what money she wanted by Jeffs wish and George went away before the 1 of the month and dident get his salary he told me to give matty the rent but as we have a new comer down stairs a girl baby they were a little behind in paying the rent  loc_ad.00106.jpg so she wrote to Jeff and he sent her a draft for 50 dollars and i let her have 5 dol she had none too much to go such a journey i hope she is safe home14

matt is as kind to me as she can be she said she would she would send the 5 back when she got home i wished her to take it s now walter dear i must close as i want eddy15 to put it in the box to night we had a terrible storm16 here this morng17 but cleared off the afterno) your letter and contents18 came all safe walte dear

good be this tim

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)."


  • 1.

    This letter dates to March 16, 1870. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "16" in her own hand, and Edwin Haviland Miller assigned the date December? 16, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366). Miller probably dated this letter according to Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's December 1868 visit to Brooklyn. But Miller's date is too early: Mattie also arrived in Brooklyn during February 1870 and departed on March 14, 1870, a Monday. This letter is associated with Mattie's early 1870 visit to Brooklyn.

    Mattie departed from her month-long visit to Brooklyn on March 14, 1870, and her daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa had not accompanied her on the trip (see Louisa's February 23, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). The date of Mattie's departure from Brooklyn and her expected arrival in St. Louis matches Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's March 18, 1870 letter to Louisa (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 143). Jeff returned to St. Louis on February 26, 1870 while Mattie remained in Brooklyn (see Mattie's February 27, 1870 letter to Walt in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 68). During her trip, Mattie planned also to visit Washington, D.C., and to stay with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor, but those plans were scuttled (see Mattie's March 1, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman [Waldron, 69–70]). This letter from Louisa indicates that Mattie will not travel to Washington, and Louisa asked Walt to thank the O'Connors on Mattie's behalf. Joseph Phineas Davis has also visited Louisa in Brooklyn, and his visit is consistent with his recent departure from St. Louis to become an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts (see Mattie's February 27, 1870 letter to Walt [Waldron, 68–69]). Finally, the damaging storm that Louisa noted at the close of the letter was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle just days after Mattie's departure for St. Louis (see Louisa's March 23, 1870 letter to Walt). This letter is consistent with Mattie's March 14, 1870 departure from Brooklyn after an extended visit, with her cancellation of a planned trip to Washington and a stay with the O'Connors, with Davis's visit to Brooklyn on his way to Lowell, and with the date of a severe storm, so it dates March 16, 1870.

    Pieces of this letter are held in two repositories. The portion of the letter in the Yale Collection of American Letter is incomplete and lacks a closing. The remainder of the letter was discovered in January 2012 by Kenneth M. Price and Brett Barney, in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection (Library of Congress). The portion in the Feinberg Collection lacks a date and salutation but has a closing. Louisa's references to Mattie's expected arrival in St. Louis and to a "terrible storm" confirm that the newly discovered Feinberg leaf is the remainder of Louisa's March 16, 1870 letter in the Yale Collection.

  • 2. Walt had not visited Brooklyn, but Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had permitted her daughter-in-law Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's letters to Walt to substitute for her own: "Mother says she will not write this week" (see Mattie's March 1, 1870 to Walt Whitman, Mattie, 69). Louisa presumably allowed Mattie Whitman's promised letter the following week to also serve (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 70). [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]
  • 5. Mrs. Black was a neighbor to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. After Louisa moved to Camden, New Jersey, Mrs. Black complained that Helen Price no longer visited her: "tell Helen she might come to Brooklyn and see me now that Mrs. Whitman has moved away I am just as good as she is" (see Helen's November 24, 1872 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Trent Collection, Duke University]). Louisa also mentioned Mrs. Black in her March 11, 1868, March 13, 20, or 27?, 1868, and June 15 or 16, 1868 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 6.

    Moses Lane (1823–1882), who served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869, was one of the most generous contributors to Walt Whitman's hospital work (see Lane's May 27, 1863 letter to Whitman), and he promoted both Thomas Jefferson Whitman's career as an engineer and George Washington Whitman's work as a pipe inspector. Lane married Marinda Ingalls (1829–) in 1852, and they had four children (United States Census, 1880, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; "Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers [February 1882], 58).

    James P. Kirkwood (1807?–1877), who also contributed to Walt Whitman's hospital work, designed the Brooklyn Water Works, consulted on the design of the St. Louis Water Works, and served as the second president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Sarah E. Richards (1817–) was the maiden name of his second wife ("Obituary. James P. Kirkwood," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 24, 1877, 4; United States Census, 1870, New York, Brooklyn Ward 3, Kings).

  • 7. Anna Van Wycke (or "Van Wyck") had boarded with the Whitmans in Brooklyn, and the Van Wycke family farm was near Colyer farm, which had belonged to Jesse Whitman, Walt Whitman's paternal grandfather. See Bertha H. Funnel, Whitman on Long Island (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1971), 78. [back]
  • 8. During her spring 1870 trip east, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman intended to travel from Brooklyn to Washington, D.C., to visit Walt Whitman and her friends Julius Mason, his wife Mary, and probably Julius's sister Irene. Mattie planned to stay with William D. and Ellen M. O'Connor while in Washington. See her March 1, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 69–70; 69, n. 4). [back]
  • 9. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen 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]
  • 10. At the time of this visit to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) was on his way to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he would serve as an engineer. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa, her son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). After he departed St. Louis, Davis stopped at least three times to visit Louisa when he traveled through Brooklyn (also see Louisa's January 19, 1869 and June 22, 1870 letters to Walt). [back]
  • 11. For Joseph Phineas Davis's work with Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). [back]
  • 12. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. Jeff in 1867 became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and would become a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. Jeff departed St. Louis with his wife, Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, in mid-February 1870 but spent time in Pittsburgh before rejoining his wife in Brooklyn. Jeff departed Brooklyn to return to St. Louis on February 26 (see Mattie's February 27, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 68). For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [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]
  • 14. Martha Mitchell Whitman arrived in St. Louis on March 16, 1870 (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's March 18, 1870 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 143). [back]
  • 15. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 16. A damaging storm hit Brooklyn on March 16, 1870 (see "Long Island Items: Effects of the Storm To-Day on Long Island," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1870, 14). [back]
  • 17. The end of this letter is in a swift and casual hand, and many letters are omitted from words. [back]
  • 18. Walt Whitman's March 13?, 1870 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362). [back]
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