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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 28 March [1873]

 owu.00020.001.jpg Dearest mother,

The sun shines out bright & cheerful this morning—& in my east window I have a fine healthy rose-bush—I see it has got two roses, in bloom, & one just budding out—(it was a present from Mrs. Channing2 of Providence—she sent on here, and had it got for me, when I was first sick)3—I think I am feeling better to-day, & more like myself—I have been in the habit of soaking my feet in hot water every night for two months now—& I think lately it has done me more harm than good—one thing is, it has probably made me catch a slight cold—so I have stopt​ it, & I have a notion I feel better from stopping it—

—I have just had my breakfast, & am sitting here alone by the stove, writing this—Charles Eldridge4 will be here in a few minutes, & bring the morning papers—he comes & sits a few minutes every morning before going to work—he has been very good indeed—he & Peter Doyle5 hold out through every thing—most of the rest have got tired & stopt​ coming—(which is just as well)—Mrs. O'Connor6 comes whenever she can, & generally brings a dish of roast apples, or something—


I go over to the office about 12 or 1 most every day——but only for a few minutes—have not resumed work there yet, but hope to, Monday—I find there is a great deal of paralysis around, and they say I have got along very well—but it so slow, so aggravating, to be disabled, so feeble, cannot walk nor do any thing, when one's mind & will are just as clear as ever—Still I feel I shall get as well as usual yet dearest mother—& then I shall surely get here or buy or build a little place here, rooms enough to live in for you & Ed7 and me8—I realize it more, far more now, than ever—even for my own comfort—this spring is better to buy here than usual—I think we could get along very well indeed—you could visit George & Lou9 as often as you liked (& George & Lou could come & pay us a visit in winter when Congress is in full blast)—

—I miss John10 & Mrs. Burroughs11—they are at a place called Waukill, N.Y. state—they have hired out their house furnished, 6 mo's​ , $50 a month. I have not heard any thing further from Jeff12

—I hope to come on soon & pay you all a visit, but wait to see how things go in the office—& how I feel—(as I have been absent now nine weeks)—Every thing looks pleasant here to-day—quite spring like—Mother dear, I hope this will find you feeling well, & in good spirits, as that is the main thing.—Mother as I cannot get down to the p.o. I send the money once more enclosed—write me Sunday, if convenient—Chas.​ Eldridge has been in—it is now later, towards 12—I have washed & put on some clean clothes, & am going over to the office—


Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. We know of no reason to question the date of 1873 assigned by the executors. [back]
  • 2. Ellen M. O'Connor's sister, Mary Jane "Jeannie" (Tarr) Channing (1828–1897). Walt Whitman visited often with Mary Jane and her husband Dr. William Ellery Channing during his October 1868 visit to Providence, Rhode Island. [back]
  • 3. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 4. Charles W. Eldridge was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who put out the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In December 1862, on his way to find his injured brother George in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Whitman stopped in Washington and encountered Eldridge, who had become a clerk in the office of the army paymaster and eventually obtained a desk for Whitman in the office of Major Lyman Hapgood, the army paymaster. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donald, "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. Peter Doyle (1843–1907) was one of Walt Whitman's closest comrades and lovers, and their friendship spanned nearly thirty years. The two met in 1865 when the twenty-one-year-old Doyle was a conductor in the horsecar where the forty-five-year-old Whitman was a passenger. Despite his status as a veteran of the Confederate Army, Doyle's uneducated, youthful nature appealed to Whitman. Although Whitman's stroke in 1873 and subsequent move from Washington to Camden limited the time the two could spend together, their relationship rekindled in the mid-1880s after Doyle moved to Philadelphia and visited nearby Camden frequently. After Whitman's death, Doyle permitted Richard Maurice Bucke to publish the letters Whitman had sent him. For more on Doyle and his relationship with Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Doyle, Peter," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. His brother George Washington Whitman cared for him for most of the rest of his life, with financial support from Walt Whitman. For more information on Eddy, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Edward (1835–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Encouraged by Whitman's references to a home (see the letter from Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of February 23, 1873), Louisa wrote on March 21: "i think walt when folks get old like you and me they ought to have a home of their own." Louisa also informed Jeff of her unhappiness at Camden, for on March 30, Jeff reported to Whitman that mother "is not quite as happy as when she kept her own house—what do you think about it." About April 5(?), Louisa wrote: "well walt i should never have made any complaint if you hadent have wrote to me. you should certainly get a place for you and edd and me. i hope you may succeed walter. i have not been very happy here but i thought you had trouble enough without hearing mine." Meanwhile, George had begun to construct a house in Camden—much too elaborate for Louisa's tastes. On April 8, she described the house she dreamed of: "if we ever build walt which i hope we shall, i dont think it will be quite so extensive. the cheapest house that you could build would be a 2 story house with 2 rooms below and 2 rooms above with a shed kichen with no fireplace in the house except in the kichen. . . . what do you think of my plan walt. we couldent have many visitors to stay all night." [back]
  • 9. Whitman's brother, George Washington Whitman (1829–1901), and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou." For more information on George, see Martin G. Murray "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). For more on Louisa, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 11. Ursula North Burroughs (1836–1917) was John Burroughs's wife. Ursula and John were married on September 12, 1857. The couple maintained a small farm overlooking the Hudson River in West Park, Ulster County. They adopted a son, Julian, at two months of age. It was only later revealed that John himself was the biological father of Julian. [back]
  • 12. Jeff wrote to his mother on March 26. [back]
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