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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 21 January 1869

My dear Walt,

Tis a long, long time since I have written you, and I am somewhat ashamed of it I assure you—but somehow I cannot seem to get time—and so day after day passes without writing. When I was at home I expected to be able to come to Washington to see you but matters turned out so—combined with Mats poor health at the time, that I could'nt make it out.

You have learned, of course, through Mother of our safe arrival in St. Louis  We at first put up at Barnums Hotel1 but the place was inconvenient and price very high so I have hired a large room (abt. 25' X 20' by 16 high)  we have a large stove in it, two beds and have our meals served from the Restaurant in the basement—the room is directly opposite the office2 and altogether quite pleasant—yet of course we should prefer to keep house—and shall do so if Mattie gets well enough—I think Mat is getting better fast. Her cough is very much less—she is gaining in flesh and is much stronger—she goes out with me on the work almost every day that it is pleasant and enjoys it hugely. The children go to school—quite away off too—so that they take the cars that run past the door and within a block or so of the school. They are both very healthy and when night comes are just as tired as they can be what with their ride in the car—their studies and play  Both of them grow fast—Hattie inde[e]d is quite a large girl.

The works are going along pretty well although just at this moment we are in ill-luck consequent upon the river having risen and overflowed our cofferdam and thereby stopped progress on the river work.3 I have just come down from there and found the water slowly falling and I hope in a few days—by Sunday next—to commence again—this is the part of the works that we expected would be difficult and we have got along with them better than we had a right to expect. For the last three weeks the river has been just on the verge of overflowing us—the consequence was that we worked hard to crowd the work and fight the water to keep it out of the dam—the foundations are from 25 to 30 feet under the surface of the water in the river and I felt it would make bad work to be drowned out  It would (the river) go up to within just a few inches of the top of the dam some days and then fall a few inchs—this style of worry and excitement has had rather a bad effect on me as I have for some two weeks had a pretty bad diarrhea—but since the matter is settled I am getting better of it—and shall undoubtedly be all right in a few days now.

I had a letter from Davis4 to day who is now in Brooklyn—he says he took dinner on Sunday with Mother and George—that they were well and that George was getting along quite fast with his Portland Avenue house  Davis thinks of coming back to St. Louis via Washington—if he does you will see him and he will give you an idea of what we are attempting to do here—I wish, dear Walt, that you could come out and see for yourself tho  'twould do us lots of good—cant you ring in on one of the R. Road examinat[ion] excursions5 and come as far as St Louis  I think it would do you lots of good to come west for awhile just to see how big 'tis getting

How goes things with you Walt? Will you be able to retain your sit under the new come ins?6 Do you write anything for publications now adays.7 Tis so long since I have heard from you directly that I suppose you have had quite a good dea[l] published that I have not seen.

Mattie and the children send love—when you can, scribble us a line—tis a good day when we get a letter from any of you  Do you hear much about Han,  poor girl I think of her often if I say but little. she has a hard lot of it.8 Give my love to all mutual friends in Washington—particularly the O'Connors.9

Affectionately your brother Jeff


  • 1. Erected in 1854, Barnum's Hotel at Second and Walnut was still among the finest in St. Louis. In 1866 Fay and McCarty purchased the hotel from the original owners, Theron Barnum and Josiah Fogg. Jeff had apparently broken his lease on the Olive Street house (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman to George Washington Whitman, 8 September 1868). [back]
  • 2. This room was in the Hotel Garni, Billiard Hall, and Restaurant, owned by George Wolbrecht and located at the northeast corner of Fourth and Elm streets. Mattie described this room in detail to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and complained of the high rent—twenty dollars per month (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], p. 63). [back]
  • 3. On January 17 the Mississippi River rose twenty inches above the cofferdam that protected the construction site. Just before this, Jeff had been "jubilant" about the progress on the works (Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, January 19, 1869 [Trent Collection, William R. Perkins Library, Duke University]). [back]
  • 4. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 22 September 1863. [back]
  • 5. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 12 July 1868. [back]
  • 6. Since Grant had not yet announced an appointee to attorney general, Walt Whitman did not know who his next employer would be (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967], p. 407). [back]
  • 7. Whitman's essays "Democracy" and "Personalism" were published in the Galaxy in December 1867 and May 1868. The poet also planned to publish a third essay, "Orbic Literature," in this journal, but the piece was rejected. These three essays were later combined in Democratic Vistas, which was first published in 1871 in New York by J.S. Redfield. [back]
  • 8. Hannah's left thumb became so infected that she had to have it amputated in December 1868 (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949], p. 225). [back]
  • 9. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to William Douglas O'Connor, 16 March 1865. [back]
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