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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 8 March 1863

Dearest Mother,

Jeff must have got quite a long letter, (three sheets,) I wrote Thursday or Friday last1—nothing particular. This is the fifth letter I have sent with shinplasters in—(Since George's $3 got lost I am more on the alert and mention them)—

The poor Frenchman d'Almeida2I told you about in my last, got out of the Old Capitol prison this morning—has been in a week—it was a most ridiculous thing putting him in—he was as square a man as I am—while he was in, the chief officer of the prison laughed sarcastically one day at his broken English, and d'Almeida said, "Sir you ought not to laugh—you ought much more to weep, to see a poor traveler like me in such a misfortune"—and Mr. Chief Officer immediately called the guard and sent d'Almeida to the guard-house for that awful offence of making such an answer. The guard-house is a nasty, lousy dungeon without light—in it was a nigger with his wrists in manacles, and four white deserters—there is among the Old Capitol prisoners a little boy of seven years old—he and his father were taken as secesh guerillas in Virginia, and the government is holding on to the child, to exchange him for some Union prisoner south, in an exchange. Mother, my heart bleeds at all sorts of such damnable things of one kind or another I meet with every day—it is not the fault of the President—he would not harm any human being—nor of Seward3 or Stanton4—but the heartless mean-souled brutes that get in positions subordinate but where they can show themselves, and their damned airs and pomposity—they think nothing of treating a man like the worst slave-owner is supposed to treat his niggers—

Meanwhile the great officers of the government have every minute occupied with pressing business, and these wretches have full swing. It seems impossible that there could be in the Free States such tyrants, as many you see hereabout—This d'Almeida is a very modest man, a real French gentleman, poor, and quite distinguished as a traveler and man of science—and is a Professor in the Academy of France. He takes or appears to take his misfortunes very goodnaturedly—yet it must have cut pretty deep on some accounts, he suffered every humiliation.

Well, dearest mother, how does it go at home? I hope you are none of you going to move—I hope it is arranged that you shall stay—there would be something dissatisfactory wherever you should go. I was real glad to hear Jeff had abandoned the idea of building, this spring—to attempt it without money is winding onesself round and round in the devil's own net.5

I saw Frederick Ellison here yesterday—he is a young man that used to be in Hughes's store there above Cumberland street6—he is in the 9th N. Y. Militia—has just come from Brooklyn, where he has been on a furlough—

I would be glad to hear about Han—I must write to her very soon. I have not heard from George since. Yesterday I spent the day at Emory Hospital—a very needy place—I gave out a great many things, and about $4 in money—it was a good day. I was covered with mud, getting there. (I dont mean good weather, it rained hard)—


Jeff, I shall write a few lines soon to Mr. Rae—also to the firm that contributed the $10.7 I have not yet rec'd the engravings.


  • 1. This letter is apparently lost. [back]
  • 2. Joseph-Charles d'Almeida (1822–1880), a professor and author of Problèmes de physique (1862), came to the United States in 1862. In the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress, there are three interesting letters from d'Almeida to William Douglas O'Connor, a close friend and associate of Whitman's. From Memphis, Tennessee, on January 28, 1863, d'Almeida explained that because of the kindness of a Miss Rebecca Harding he had been introduced to "la société rebelle." On March 2, 1863, he asked O'Connor to visit him in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. The Washington National Republican of this date listed d'Almeida among refugees who were committed to Old Capitol Prison for examination. From New York, on March 27(?), d'Almeida wrote his farewell letter after he had been to Boston, where he had been entertained by James Fields, and had met Longfellow, Emerson, and Agassiz: "I carry with me a little American library in which the LEAVES of Grass are included." [back]
  • 3. William Henry Seward (1801–1872) was secretary of state from 1861 to 1869 under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. [back]
  • 4. Edwin McMasters Stanton (1814–1869) was secretary of war from 1862 to 1868. [back]
  • 5. On March 3, 1863, Jeff wrote that he had decided to "wait for cheaper times" when he discovered that what he "supposed would cost at 11 or $1200 could not be done for less than 20 or $2100". [back]
  • 6. In the Brooklyn Directory of 1859–1860, Ellison was listed as clerk. The name did not appear in the Directories of 1861–1862 and 1865–1866. Oscar F. Hughes had a store at 373 Myrtle Avenue. In 1861–1862, the Directory cited "house furnishings," and in 1865–1866, "glass ware." [back]
  • 7. On February 12, 1863, Jeff sent to his brother $10 from Hill and Newman (a firm that has not been identified: Henry P. Hill, James Hill, and Warren Hill were engineers; Simon Hill, Samuel Hill, and Thomas Newman were contractors) and $5 "from our friend Mr. E. Rae": "I know Rae is a liberal hearted man and through his friends he could do a great deal and I am confident that he could be more earnestly interested in the matter if you write him directly." This was probably E. H. Rae, a law copyist with an office at 16 Wall Street, New York. [back]
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