Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 22 January 1867

Dearest mother,

I rec'd your letter of the 17th—I have been thinking about you this cold weather—& especially the storm latter part of last week, that is, since the date of your letter—I see you have had it very heavy indeed—I see a piece in the Tribune, about a new book, a history of the Campaigns of the Ninth Corps2—I send it, for George—but it may be he has already seen it in the paper.

I am glad you treated Emmy Price so kindly—3 they were so hospitable to me—I should think it would be pretty hard to reach you up there on the hill, so you can't have many visitors. I see young Van Brunt Bergen4 here last week, he is in Jeff's office, the Water Works. I havn't seen Julius Mason5 for a long while—I think he must have left here. The O'Connors are all well as usual—I was there to tea Sunday evening.

We have had very rough weather here too—Sunday it snowed hard, & the wind blew in gusts, with now & then quite a gale. After dinner, I started to go to the Hospital, as I had provided a big molasses pound cake for supper—but the snow was too hard, & the wind right in my face, & I gave it up—I postponed going till next day.

I spend quite a good deal of time, evenings & Sundays, in the office at my desk, as I can get in the Treasury Building any time, as the doorkeepers all know me—nearly all of them are broken down or one-legged soldiers—The office is warm & nice, with gas, & all the modern improvements—& I am all alone. I would like you to see our rooms—they are a suite of seven rooms, all in a row, or rather in the shape of an L, each room opening from the other—five of them are very large & high—one is the library, filled with books of law, mostly—but we have five or six hundred miscellaneous works—I have described to you before, my desk & window looking out south, down the Potomac. In the Attorney General's room, there are nearly a hundred pictures, portraits of all the different Attorney Generals, from the days of Washington.

I went round one evening last week to see Mrs. Mix.6 Poor old woman, yet she bears up bravely—it was real affecting—Mother, she makes me think of grandmother Whitman in her last days—7 She & all of them are going to scatter—the house was all in confusion, every thing torn up, & things being boxed up to be taken away—Mrs. Mix is going to Brooklyn to live with her granddaughter Mrs. Haskell, (that is Mrs. Graysons daughter that married the young man, the protegé of Mr. Beecher.)8 The poor old lady said she was going on the train from Here to New York, last Friday night—but it was so bitter cold, & snow on the track, I hardly think she went then—but I havnt heard yet—Living here for her or any of them is a perfect hell—I have heard that old Grayson is just as bad since his wife's death as ever—he gets drunk, & then tries to choke his son & daughter, & ends by getting in a fury, & trying to beat every body out of the house—but enough of the old villain.

Mother, I will write to you old Mrs. Mix's address in Brooklyn.

To-day we are having it quite bright & pleasant—I am feeling well as usual—It looks like winter at the far north as I look from my window—every thing as far as the eye can reach is white with a deep snow—Ashton,9 the Assistant Attorney Gen'l, has just had a bad fall on the sidewalk, cut his face badly, & stunned him—will lay him up a few days—Love to Jeff & Mat & all.



  • 1.

    This letter's envelope bears the address, "Mrs. Louisa Whitman | p.o. box 218, | Brooklyn, New York." It is postmarked: "Washington D.C. | Jan | 22."

  • 2. Augustus Woodbury, Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps: A Narrative of Operations in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (Sidney S. Rider & Bros., Publishers, Providence, R.I.). [back]
  • 3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, on January 17, 1867, spoke of a visit from Emma Price: "i told her if shed wait till the teakettle boiled i would make her some tea, so she took off her hat and i fried her a fresh egg and bread and butter." [back]
  • 4. Van Brunt Bergen (1841–1917) was the son of Congressman Teunis G. Bergen. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1863 with a degree in civil engineering and was employed on the Brooklyn Water Works from 1864 to 1895. In 1884, he wrote a short history of the department, which was printed in Henry R. Stiles, ed., The Civil, Political, Professional, and Ecclesiastical History . . . of the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn, N.Y. from 1683 to 1884 (New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 1884), 584–594. According to Thomas Jefferson Whitman's December 21, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman, Bergen contributed $2 to the fund raised for the soldiers' dinner mentioned in Walt Whitman's December 24, 1866 letter to his mother. (This material draws upon information provided by Edna Huntington, librarian of the Long Island Historical Society.) [back]
  • 5. Probably Julius W. Mason, a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry. On February 10, 1863, Jeff mentioned a J. W. Mason, who "used to be in my party on the Water Works." Mason remained in the army until his death in 1882. [back]
  • 6. Mary Mix lived with her daughter, Juliet Grayson, who operated the boardinghouse at 468 M North, where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and February 1866. After her daughter's death on January 7, 1867 (which Walt Whitman reported to his mother on January 15, 1867), Mrs. Mix left Washington, which Walt Whitman mentioned in his letter to his mother of January 29, 1867. [back]
  • 7. Hannah Brush Whitman, born in 1753, died on January 6, 1834. [back]
  • 8.

    Mary Mix evidently went to live with Samuel S. Haskell, Jr., who was associated with his father, an importer of bags.

    Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), Congregational clergyman and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Walt Whitman described him briefly in the Brooklyn Daily Advertizer of May 25, 1850. His father, Lyman Beecher (1775–1863), was also a clergyman, who upon his retirement lived with his son in Brooklyn.

  • 9. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
Back to top