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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 28 December 1863

Dear brother Walt,

My last letter to you was dated from Springfield Mass. I went home on Sat. and had an oportunity to come up here and make some surveys for an Iron Company. I shall probably be kept here all this week and possibly part of next  About the Eagle that had the little squib in about you.1 I have not had much of an opportunity to try to get one to send you. I have not been able to get to the Eagle office, but tried at a number of the paper stores and could not get it. As soon as I get home I will go to the office and get one if I can, if not I will copy from their file the piece and send you. Walt there is no disposition not to get it, to send you or any unwillingness to take some trouble in the matter, but I have been so very busy the little time that I have been in Brooklyn that I really could not have time to go down to their office. Of course I have had to keep my work up in Brooklyn just the same as if I had not been away,—had to work day and night sundays and all, hardly had time to go home to see Mat. and the babies  The fact of the matter is that I am a little overdoing the thing and if it was going to continue long should stop it but as I had this opportunity to make a little extra I felt as if I must tax myself a little. For instance I got to Brooklyn at 12 ock Thursday night, went to the office early on Friday morning and I hardly left it till abt. 10 ck on Sunday night. I tell you last night I felt the thing pretty bad.—In the early part of this month Mr Kirkwood2 sent me $5 to send you but I have been pretty hard up and had to use it. I will get some money as soon as I get back to Brooklyn again and will send it to you then.—When I wrote you last I was in rather a high state of excitement in regard to Jess and probably wrote rather strong—but I felt very angry and bad I can tell you. Mat has even hardly yet got over the trouble in her back, and altogether it was a mean dirty thing for Jess to do, for I know he knows better. You wrote Mother abt getting Jess in the Asylum—It does not seem to meet with her wishes.3 When I wrote you my idea was that by each of us paying—say a $ a week—you and I and George  that we could keep him in some one of the Hospitals around New York—I think it would be best yet. Can you, from your intimacy with the doctors around Washington, get any information in regard to the matter. I have had several talks with Ruggles4 abt the thing and [he] says that there might be such a thing as it curing him.—helping him anyway  but I feel as if it was our duty to relieve Mother of him—I still feel very nervous abt leaving him with them at home, with Mother, Mat and the babies, for I think he would be guilty of anything when the fits of passion and devilment are on him—he is certainly not to be trusted.—I have made several enquires and am told that he could be put in Hospital and have things all done for him at at $15 per month. I am sure that it would not be much and it would add many years to Mother's life I know. Mother seems to me to act foolish abt. the thing—for instance she won't come up in our rooms because she cant bring Jess along—I will not allow him to come there  consequently it amounts to keeping Mother out. I feel mightly unpleasant abt it I can tell you—downhearted—dispirited—and matters dont go quite so pleasant at home as they used to. Mother thinks that we are foolish—I think I am right  Dont understand me that either I or Mat have any enmity against Jess—for its not so. Mat speaks and acts towards him as she always has done, better I think than any other person on earth would after the affair of that Friday—Walt let us try and see if we cant get him in some place that Mother and Mat wont feel so bad about as they would if he was sent to the Asylum. I think it is a duty to our Mother for her comfort and indeed for her safty and of course I have another stake in my wife and children. For the safty of all of them I want that we should do it. Dont you think it could be done

Well Walt here I am abt 110 miles from New York, up in the Harlem and New York R. R. just on the edge of the state of Mass. among a mass of high mountains and deep valleys. The night is one of the wildest that I ever remember, the wind is blowing a gale, the snow and sleet and rain by turns come plashing against the windows. I am boarding at an old fashioned country house (I learn from a book on the table that it is the "Hon. Peter Kissenbrack" of the state Legislature of /62[)]5 as comfortable quarters as I ever enjoyed—good living good fire—good rooms and good bed—clever old dutch-fashioned American people. I've just been drinking some good cider and eating some fine apples. Everything thing is as comfortable and country like. Did you hear of the death of James Ward,6 Jennie [DeBevoise's?]7 husband, a most singular case and very sudden. I suppose that Mother has written you abt. it. That iron-clad that sunk at Charleston drownded one of my intimate friends H. W. Merian8 as splendid a young man as ever lived. Do you remember I introduced you to him at Pfaffs9 a long time ago. He had a large circle of friends in Brooklyn, was the only son and almost worshipped by his family. He was in my party on the line and was my room-mate for a year. I felt pretty bad when I heard he was dead. Probasco10 I see every few days, that is when I am in Brooklyn  The other evening he came in the office, asked me how Andrew left his widow. I told him almost destitute. he handed me $10 and told me to give her that. I thought it wonderful generous for one who hardly had ever seen Andrew. He said $5 of it was from Tom Tweedy,11 the Gent we saw at his store the one that gave you the hat. Abt a week ago one of the men in the department that Andrew was in in the navy yard came and gave Nancy $30 saying that they had raffled off Andrews chest of that tools at that price, so as she had considerable money I did not yet give her the $10 (indeed I have had to use some of it) but will give it to her the first of next week—Nancy is abt the same as ever—she seems to have no idea of getting along—she says she would work if she had it—but no idea of getting it. Mat has been trying to get her some and I think will succeed in a few days

Matters and things around the office are the same as usual. Mr Lane12 is as kind as anyone could well be—the Dr comes in every day for a short time, and things looked jolly enough around there the few days I was home. There is some talk that Sam. Powell13 will be made Water Com. I hope so. I should consider it a good thing for me  About my coming to Washington, do you think you could get the pass. if so I will surely come on. try for it wont you.—Kingsley14 is very sick. Ruggles is tending him. Kingsley also has a little girl just lying at the point of death—a very painful affair—

Otherwise that I have spoken of things are all quite well at home. When I was at Springfield Mother had a very hard time, but almost recovered from it. Mother works too hard  I hope we can arrange it so that she wont have to always.

Let me hear from you   I shall be at home, I think the first of next week—

affectionately Jeff


  • 1. The squib Jeff refers to was a short "Personal" item in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of December 3, 1863, which praised Walt Whitman's work with the soldiers and read in part: "Who is there in Brooklyn who doesn't know Walt Whitman? Rough and ready, kind and considerate, generous and good, he was ever a friend in need." In a note appended to a letter from George from December 9, 1863, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman said taht she thought that the article had been written by Dr. Ruggles, but Walt Whitman thought it was written by Joseph Howard, Jr. (see Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:190 and 190, n. 76). [back]
  • 2. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from April 16, 1860. [back]
  • 3. Walt Whitman's letter is not extant. Apparently the poet agreed with Jeff that their brother Jesse needed to be institutionalized. Their mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, however, defended her firstborn: "Jessy is a very great trouble to me to be sure and dont appreceate what i doo for him but he is no more deranged than he has been for the last 3 years  I think it would be very bad for him to be put in the lunatic assiliym...i could not find it in my heart to put him there withou i see something that would make it unsafe for me to have him" (December 25, 1863 [Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library]). [back]
  • 4. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from April 2, 1863. [back]
  • 5. Peter G. Kisselbrack (1825–?), a local politician, was elected to the New York State Assembly from Columbia County in 1862 and served one term, through 1863. [back]
  • 6. James Ward died December 14, 1863 (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 14, 1863). [back]
  • 7. Although Jeff appears to have written "DeBenor's" or "DeBevor's," neither name is listed in the city directories. However, Jeff had maintained a long friendship with the DeBevoise family of Brooklyn, and perhaps this is the name he intended. Jeff would then be referring to a sister of his old friend William DeBevoise, which would explain Jeff's use of the maiden name. See Jeff's letter to Walt Whitman from February 10, 1863. [back]
  • 8. Henry W. Merian (1840–1863), third assistant engineer, United States Navy, perished with twenty-six others when the monitor Weehawken sank in a storm off Charleston, South Carolina, on December 16, 1865. [back]
  • 9. From roughly 1854 to 1862 Walt Whitman moved in a circle of literary and theatrical people that met at Charles Pfaff's restaurant on Broadway near Bleecker Street. Here he met such writers as William Dean Howells, Richard Henry Stoddard, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and Edmund Clarence Stedman. [back]
  • 10. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from January 13, 1863. [back]
  • 11. "Tom" is proably the nickname of either Edward or John Tweedy. The Tweedys lived in Brooklyn and worked in a dry goods store in New York. [back]
  • 12. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from January 13, 1863. [back]
  • 13. The new mayor of Brooklyn, Colonel Alfred M. Wood, nominated Samuel S. Powell for water commissioner on February 1, 1864, but the Board of Aldermen refused to confirm him. On March 1, Wood nominated W. A. Fowler who was confirmed. [back]
  • 14. William C. Kingsley (1833–1885) was one of the first contractors for the Brooklyn Water Works (1857). For his role in building the Brooklyn Bridge, see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from February 23, 1885. [back]
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