Skip to main content

Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 3 March 1863

Dear Walt:

Yesterday I received your letter of Sunday.1 I was real glad to hear from you and began to wonder what had happen [to] you  About the house. I had my plan fixed up as I wanted it and left it with some three or four carpenters and got bids on it. much to my astonishment I found that what I was supposed would cost at 11 or $1200 could not be done for less than 20 or $2100  after thinking the matter over pretty thoroughly I have come to the conclusion that the best thing I could do would be to hold on to the lot and wait for cheaper times. I hardly would be willing to spend that amount of money in a house of that kind and I think it would be much better to wait till the character of the avenue is settled before building. And again, I find (by calculation) that the prospect is that the difference in prices in, say two years, will more than pay rent for that time and then there would be the interest money to pay besides. Dont you think I have acted wisely. I sent word to Blake2 word this morning that I would remain as I was and he sent back word that he would call and see me this week. That she bitch of Hell, the Brown, is trying her strongest to clear us out and I honestly think Walt that I shall just take and belt old Johny3 under the eye if he attempts any of his last summers games

To day the bitch could do nothing better than spend an hour or two in getting the lid of the cistern up and has left it in the old dangerous style half on and half of[f] the hole  Mother tells me that Blake is altogether "on their side"  one thing is sure that if he attempts any of his games I shall most certainly clear out. I rather think that Mother would rather that we would move as Brown is continually at her about Mats conduct and keeps her in continued hot water. Everything is going on as usual. I wish you would let me hear from you at least twice a week. I guess that I have received all your letters  Mother got your letter enclosing the $1.00 and is still like Oliver Twist.4 She has had some 3 letters from you with money in it.

We had received the letter from George (that he spoke of in his letter to you) just before we got yours5  Mother wrote to George also Han yesterday. I wish you would tell George that if he cannot possibly get his furlough (if he should make his clothes look awful they might let him home to get a new suit) and will send on his measure we will have them made in good style and sent to him. As regards the money in the Bank, there is plenty left for that purpose. Mother had a letter from Han on Saturday  she seemed about the same although Heyde wrote in the latter part of the letter that she was not so well  the exertion of writing was too much for her6  Sissy is very well and is growing finely  She is great on the mischief, she is just getting at that age where she does it with "malice aforethoughts"

I shall write you oftener hereafter  I have been so busy with plans specifications &c &c that I have not been able to write you as ofen as I would like. I think that I have a good bargain in my lot if I can manage to hold on to it. They are now asking $1500 for lots in the immediate neighborhood that are not as well located as the one I have bargained for

How do you get along with your office hunting  do you meet with any encouragement. It must be a new life to you. Are you writing for any paper outside of Washington, if so what?7 You must have pretty good times generally, dont you  I should much like to see you for a good talk. Your note book will certainly have a good many strange things in it. What are they going to do to reinforce the army, will they have to enforce the conscript bill8

We have not been able to send you any money lately but hope that we shall before long. do you get any from any other source? Twill be hard for you to go to the Hospitals if you cant give the poor young heroes something. I think that it would be a good idea for you to write Mr Lane, tell him that you are out, and ask him if he could not get the young men around the office to subscribe 50 cts a month.9 I will, if he puts "the questions" amend that it be made a dollar, and should not wonder that we could send you quite a little sum every month. Of course you wont say I suggested it.

We are all quite well and getting along as well as usual  will write you again in a few days. Dear Walt receive love from all and a kiss from Hattie



  • 1. This letter is not extant. [back]
  • 2. Unidentified. [back]
  • 3. Jeff refers to John Brown and his wife, the neighbors downstairs. See Jeff's letter from April 3, 1860. [back]
  • 4. Jeff refers to Oliver's famous request for more food: "Please sir, I want some more" (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, Ch. ii). For another allusion to this quotation, see Jeff's letter from April 11, 1863. [back]
  • 5. George wrote to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman on February 25, 1863. Walt Whitman's letter of about March 1, 1863, is not extant. [back]
  • 6. See the letter from Charles and Hannah Heyde to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of November 24, 1868 (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library); after Hannah wrote two pages Charles interrupted, "here I have interfered and compelled Han to break off—She is too weak to continue further." All evidence suggests that the imaginations of both Charles and Hannah tended toward the melodramatic. [back]
  • 7. Walt Whitman responded on March 18, 1863: "Jeff, I wrote a letter to the Eagle and sent it yesterday…Look out for it, and buy me 20 of the papers." "The Great Washington Hospital" appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 19 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:79, n.50). In September Walt Whitman published another hospital letter in the Brooklyn Daily Union (Correspondence, 1:95, n.3). [back]
  • 8. Walt Whitman's notebooks from this period record the pathetic scenes he witnessed almost daily in the hospitals. But as Jeff guessed these notebooks contain other "strange things," including the poet's meditation on the adjournment of the Thirty-seventh Congress which on March 3, 1863, authorized America's first nationwide military draft. [back]
  • 9. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. Like Jeff Whitman, he collected money from his employees and friends for Walt's hospital work. Lane sent Whitman $15.20 in his letter of January 26, 1863, and later various sums which Whitman acknowledged in letters from February 6, 1863, May 11, 1863, May 26, 1863, and September 9, 1863. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. In an unpublished manuscript in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane assisted Whitman in other ways as well (see Whitman's letters from December 29, 1862, and February 13, 1863). He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." Walt Whitman did not ask Lane and his employees for more money; instead he took a more tactful and indirect approach by instructing his brother in a letter from March 18, 1863, thus: "Jeff, you must give my best respects to Mr. and Mrs. Lane, they have enabled me to do a world of good, and I can never forget them. [back]
Back to top