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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 16 April 1860

Dear Brother Walt,

I was at home yesterday as usual  everything is going on about the same. Andrew has recovered in a great measure,1 so that he sits up and would probably have been out-doors but the weather has been very wet and cold here for the last week. Mother herself I think is not very well. she has a bad cold that seems to pull her down. I have got one of the worst colds I ever had, and feel extremely unlike myself, still anything of that kind sits lighter on me than on one of Mother's age, and this morning Ed. seemed to be quite sick, that is he couldn't eat and complained of a bad pain in his side, however Mother put a mustard plaster on him and he felt considerably better when I left home.

Mattie and George, the rest of "the family" are well. The Mr Brown2 who has rented the lower part of the house has sent a number of things to the house, carpets &c. Mother has let him fix the front parlor and she has emigrated and taken posession of your room. The Moore people3 have not moved yet, and I believe do not intend to till 7 of May

The Water Works men are all trembling in our boots, the [prospects?] being that we are all going to be kicked out, neck and heels, from the chief down to the Axeman. It seems that Mr F. Spinola4 started a bill at Albany some time last winter trying to oust the new commissioners (King, Lewis &c &c)5  well someone made an amendment casting out the present old Com. the new Com. Chief Eng. &c all the way through, and appointing Mr McElroy6 in place of Mr Kirkwood.7 It has passed one house, and I guess the chances are abt even for its passing the other, as Wells the Contractor8 is helping it with all the power he can muster. I think it will be a dark day for the B. W. W. if he succeeds, but I suppose to the victor belongs the spoils. I know I ain't going to worry, if it does go through.9

Mother wants me to be sure and tell you that you must bring her one of those books by the authoress of "Consuelo"10 also Redpath's "John Brown"11  she says you needn't send them as that would involve cost, but to surely remember to bring them with you when you come home.

I read your letter at home.12 I am glad that you are having so good a time and that your book has such a good prospect of success. I sincerely hope you will meet with no disappointment.

Write me again Walt. I like much to hear how you are getting along. I shall write to you again probably next week. Mattie sends her love.

Your affectionate Brother Jeff.


  • 1. Jeff writes in a letter to Walt from April 3, 1860, that "Andrew has been very sick but was getting better on Sunday when I was home. His disease commenced by a very violent pain in the side, kept up and made worse by an ignorent Dr. and those around him." An alcoholic, Andrew would die of tuberculosis or perhaps throat cancer on December 3, 1863. [back]
  • 2. John Brown was a tailor whom Jeff came to despise; see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman dated March 3, 1863. [back]
  • 3. Jeff refers here either to E. D. or John Moore, both of whom lived on Myrtle Avenue. [back]
  • 4. A member of the New York legislature from 1855 to 1861, Francis B. Spinola (1821–1891) later became a brigadier general during the Civil War, and finally a United States congressman from 1887 to 1891. [back]
  • 5. The four members of the Brooklyn Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners were Gamaliel King, William B. Lewis, John H. Funk, and Daniel L. Northrup. [back]
  • 6. Samuel McElroy preceded Kirkwood as chief engineer of what was the Nassau Water Company (later the Brooklyn Water Works). McElroy resigned his position on June 10, 1856, at which time Kirkwood took over. [back]
  • 7. James P. Kirkwood (1807–1877), a prominent civil engineer and cofounder of the American Society of Civil Engineers (1852), superintended the construction of the Brooklyn Water Works as chief engineer from 1856 to 1862. After his work in Brooklyn, he moved to St. Louis and designed the waterworks which Jeff would later build. Kirkwood eventually became a nationally known independent consultant and wrote the standard text on water filtration. [back]
  • 8. In 1856 Henry S. Welles & Co. signed a contract with the Nassau Water Company to build a waterworks for Brooklyn. Welles was the main contractor for the project from its beginning to its completion in 1862. [back]
  • 9. Since Kirkwood and the others remained in their positions, the bill apparently did not pass. [back]
  • 10. Walt Whitman may have loaned Louisa Van Velsor Whitman his two-volume edition of George Sand's The Countess of Rudolstadt (New York: William H. Graham, 1848). These volumes were in the poet's library at his death. [back]
  • 11. James Redpath (1833–1891) was the author of The Public Life of Capt. John Brown (Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860), a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, the originator of the "Lyceum" lectures, and editor of the North American Review in 1886. He met Whitman in Boston in 1860 (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #90) and remained an enthusiastic admirer; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, ed. Sculley Bradley (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961), 3:459–461. He concluded his first letter to Whitman on June 25, 1860: "I love you, Walt! A conquering Brigade will ere long march to the music of your barbaric jawp." See also Charles F. Horner, The Life of James Redpath and the Development of the Modern Lyceum (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1926) and John R. McKivigan, Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman acknowledged receiving the "life of john brown" from Walt Whitman on May 3 (?), 1860. For more information on Redpath see "Redpath, James [1833–1891]." [back]
  • 12. Jeff probably refers to a lost letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]
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