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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 28 April 1863

Dearest mother,

A letter from Jeff came this morning1—mother, I was sorry to hear you had a return of your rheumatism—I do hope you will favor yourself more, it depends so much on that—& rheumatism is so obstinate, when it gets hold of one.

Mother, you rec'd a letter from me, sent last Wednesday, 22d.2 of course, with a small quantity of shinplasters. Next time you or Jeff writes, I wish you would tell me whether the letters come pretty regularly, the next morning after I write them—this now ought to reach you Wednesday forenoon, April 29th. Mother, did a Mr. Howell call on you?—he was here last week to see about his boy, died a long while ago in hospital in Yorktown. He works in the Navy Yard—knows Andrew. You will see about him, (the boy,) in a letter I sent yesterday to the Eagle—it ought to appear to-day or to-morrow.3

Jeff, I wish you would take 10 cts I send in this letter & get me ten copies of the Eagle with it in—put in 5 more of my pictures, (the big ones in last edition "Leaves"), & a couple of the photographs carte visites (the smaller ones,) & send me to the same direction as before. Jeff, I wish you would do up the parcel same as before, it came very well. I will send an Eagle to Han and George. The stamps & 10 cts. are for Jeff, for the papers, & postage.

I have written to Han, & sent her George's last two letters from Kentucky, one I got last week from Mount Sterling. I write to George, & send him papers. Sam Beatty4 is here in Washington again, I saw him, & he said he would write to George. Mother, I have not got any new clothes yet, but shall very soon I hope. People are more rough and free & easy drest than your way. Then it is dusty or muddy most of the time here.

Mother dear, I hope you have comfortable times—at least as comfortable as the law allows—I am so glad you are not going to have the trouble of moving this 1st of May. How are the Browns?5 Tell Will I should like to see him first rate—if he was here, attached to the suite of some big officer, or something of that kind, he would have a good time & do well. I see lots of young fellows not half as capable & trustworthy as he, coming & going, in Washington, in such positions. The big generals & head men, all through the armies, & provosts &c like to have a squad of such smart nimble young men around them. Give my respects to Mr. & Mrs. Brown.

Tell Jeff I am going to write to Mr. Lane, either to-day or to-morrow.6 Jeff asks me if I go to hospitals as much as ever. If my letters home don't show it, you don't get 'em. I feel sorry sometimes after I have sent them, I have said so much about hospitals, & so mournful. O mother, the young man in Armory Square, Dennis Barrett,7 in the 169th N. Y., I mentioned before, is probably going to get up after all—he is like one saved from the grave. Saturday last I saw him & talked with him & gave him something to eat, & he was much better—it is the most unexpected recovery I have yet seen.

Mother, I see Jeff says in the letter you don't hear from me very often—I will write oftener especially to Jeff. Dear brother, I hope you are getting along good & in good spirits. You must not mind the failure of the sewer bills, &c. &c.8 It don't seem to me it makes so much difference about worldly successes (beyond just enough to eat & drink, and shelter, in the moderatest limits) any more, since the last four months of my life especially, & that merely to live, & have one fair meal a day, is enough—but then you have a family, & that makes a difference.

Matty, I send you my best love, dear sister—how I wish I could be with you one or two good days. Mat, do you remember the good time we had that awful stormy night we went to the opera, New York, & had the front seat, & heard the handsome-mouthed Guerrabella?9 And then the good oyster supper at Fulton Market—("pewter them ales"—) O, Mat, I hope & trust we shall have such times again.

Tell Andrew he must remember what I wrote about the throat, &c. I am sure he will get all right before long, & recover his voice. Give him my love—& tell Mannahatta her Uncle Walt is living now among the sick soldiers. Jeff, look out for the Eagles, & send the portraits. Dearest mother, I must bid you & all for the present good bye.



  • 1. In his April 25, 1863, letter to Walt Jeff wrote: "Mother had a little attack of her rheumatism yesterday and to-day and I am somewhat afraid that she will have more of it. She has been wonderful foolish in cleaning house as she calls it and has overworked herself. I dont think that she ought to do so, and so I tell her but she always answers that it's got to be done and that there is no one but her to do it, &c." [back]
  • 2. This letter is not known. [back]
  • 3. Apparently this letter did not appear in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, as Whitman acknowledged in a letter from May 26, 1863. He probably submitted it to the Brooklyn Daily Union, in which appeared a letter, dated September 21, 1863, and printed on September 22, 1863, describing "Benjamin D. Howell, Company D, 87th New York, Aged 18." The son of Henry D. Howell, who was employed, like Walt's brother Andrew, in the Navy Yard, died at Yorktown in June 1862. Howell went to Washington in the following spring "to see if he could get any certainty about the boy." See Emory Holloway, ed., The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1921), 2:28–29; and Charles I. Glicksberg, ed., Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 133 and n. [back]
  • 4. Samuel A. Beatty lived at 40 Prince Street, Brooklyn, New York. According to the Directories of 1850–51 and 1856–57 he was a shoemaker; later he was listed as a "gasfitter" or "gas regulator." His name did not appear in the Directory of 1865–66. [back]
  • 5. See Whitman's letter from April 1, 1860 . The son, William A. Brown, was listed in the Directory of 1865–66 as a bookkeeper. [back]
  • 6. Moses Lane was chief engineer in the Brooklyn Water Works. Like Jeff, he collected money from his employees and friends. Lane sent Whitman various sums which he acknowledged in letters. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. In an unpublished manuscript in the Berg Collection, 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. He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit. According to a letter written by Lane on April 30, 1863 (The Library of Congress), Whitman wrote to him on the twenty-ninth. Lane promised to "make an effort among my friends here to keep you supplied with funds all summer." [back]
  • 7. Dennis Barrett (or Barret) was a member of the Hundred and Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers. (The editors of the Complete Works assume, doubtfully, that Barrett is referred to in a letter from April 15, 1863 . According to Glicksberg's Walt Whitman and the Civil War, Whitman wrote to Barrett on April 18, 1863; similarly, it seems more likely that Whitman wrote about Barrett for the first time in the apparently lost letter of April 22, 1863 (Glicksberg, 132). [back]
  • 8. In a letter to Walt dated April 25, 1863, Jeff complained, "We dont hear from you as often as we used to," and described the defeat of a bill in the state legislature which would have empowered the Brooklyn Sewer Commission to construct a sewer. Since Jeff was to have been in charge of the project, he had "had quite a disappointment in a small way." [back]
  • 9. Genevra Guerrabella, who was a New York girl named Genevieve Ward, made her operatic debut in Paris in 1859. Her acting was unusually effective (for the operatic stage) in such roles as Violetta, Leonora, and Elvira. She evidently appeared for the first time in New York on November 10, 1862. [back]
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