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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [5–12? July 1869]


I got your letter1 walter dear to day George2 is staying hom now to superentent the big pipe to be laid from the engine house he is better i think since he come he had to walk from the foundry3 to the hotel even days in the heat to his dinner a mile he says it was from the foundry and when he got there he couldent eat he has lost several pounds in flesh and looks rather bad he says he would like to lay off awhile but he cant

it is very pleasant this thursday morning and i feel better that i have felt for the last few days george started this morning a little after 6 oclo he has to walk to atlantic st and take the cars for east new york so he has to have his breakfes early


well walt as you say there aint much4 to write about only i thought you would think stange if i dident write) O walt aint them 15 cts bills nice george bought them all but two of me i suppose they will soon be in circulation)5 you dident say if Burroughs6 was returned) i look for hellen price7 and her mother to day they were to come the last of this week and its cool to day i havent heard how nobody is this morning he is to be the ingeneer of the bridge he has been very low but i suppose he is living)

no more at present you will come next month love to mr and mrs oconor8


  • 1. This letter dates to between July 5 and July 12, 1869. The letter has no date marking in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. The executors did not date it, and Edwin Haviland Miller did not list it in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). Based on Louisa's expectation that fractional currency bills, which Walt Whitman had forwarded, would "soon be in circulation," the letter dates to early July 1869, perhaps a week or two before the release of Postal Currency in the 15-cent denomination. The latest possible date, July 12, is derived both from Louisa's expectation that Abby and Helen Price would visit soon and that Walt would arrive "next month." Walt in a mid-July letter to Abby Price praised her daughter Helen's visit to his mother and reported that he would "leave Washington soon after the middle of August" (see his July 16, 1869 letter to Abby Price). Also see Louisa's July 14, 1869? letter to Walt, which describes the Price's visit the previous day. [back]
  • 2. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]
  • 3. The R. D. Wood Foundry had a site in Millville, New Jersey, but George Washington Whitman more often inspected pipe at the more recently established foundries in Camden and Florence, New Jersey. George accepted a position as inspector of pipes at the foundry in late 1869. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's August 26, 1868, November 4?, 1868, and December 7, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 28. [back]
  • 4. Only the first three letters of the word "much" are visible in the image. The letter is pasted into a manuscript book, and the final letters on the edge closest to the binding in the page image are often obscured. Most of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman manuscript letters in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, held at the Harry Ransom Center, have obscured text on at least one page. Text from this page was recorded based on an examination of the physical volume, which allowed more text to be recovered. [back]
  • 5. The United States issued fractional currency during the Civil War, which was known as Postal Currency because the designs copied postage stamps. Various issues continued to enter circulation until the mid-1870s. The 15 cent note appeared only in the fourth issue, which entered circulation on July 14, 1869, and its design is known as the "Bust of Columbia." See Arthur L. Friedberg and Ira S. Friedberg, Paper Money of the United States: A Complete Illustrated Guide With Valuations, 18th ed. (Clifton, New Jersey: Coin & Currency Institute, 2006), 174, 177. If Walt Whitman acquired the notes and forwarded them to his mother some days before they entered official circulation, how he was able to do so is unknown. His close friend William D. O'Connor, who worked in the Treasury Department, may have had access to uncirculated currency. [back]
  • 6.

    According to Clara Barrus, after visiting Brooklyn in late June 1868, John Burroughs described Louisa Van Velsor Whitman favorably in a letter to his wife: "A spry, vivacious, handsome old lady, worthy of her illustrious son" (Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 57).

    John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Walt Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs wrote several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Birds and Poets (1877), Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (1867), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). Ursula North (1836–1917) married John Burroughs in 1857 and also became a friend to Walt Whitman. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Burroughs family, see "Burroughs, John (1837–1921) and Ursula (1836–1917)."

  • 7.

    For Helen Price's visit, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's July 14, 1869? letter to Walt Whitman. Walt wrote to Abby Price within days of this letter from his mother: "What a good girl Helen is, to go and make those nice calls on mother" (see Walt's July 16, 1869 to Abby Price).

    Helen Price was the daughter of Abby H. Price (1814–1878) and Edmund Price. During the 1860s, Abby and Helen were friends with Walt and Louisa, and the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother (see "Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169).

  • 8. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William Douglas and Ellen M. O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the early Washington years. William D. O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). Ellen "Nelly" O'Connor, William's wife, had a close personal relationship with Whitman. The correspondence between Walt Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]
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