Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 26 January 1872

Dear brother Jeff1,

I have just rec'd your letter, & glad indeed to hear directly from you all. I hear through mother2, but have been expecting a letter from Mat3 now for some time—Mother's letters are almost always mentioning Matty with love & sympathy, & fretting when she dont hear from her—Dear Mat, we all love her so much, & think about her more than she knows—

I am now working in another branch of the Department—have it easier—whenever you write direct to me—"Solicitor's Office, Treasury" Washington, D. C.

I have just written a letter to Han4—I write quite often, & send papers, &c—I shall write to mother this morning—Mother is quite alone there in the house, as the people down stairs5 have moved out—(George turned 'em out for impudence to mother)—I write every other day, & send papers & stuff—My next piece is to appear in the "Kansas Magazine" for February6—will be out very shortly—It is a new magazine, same style as the Atlantic—intended for Western thought & reminiscences &c—

Dear Brother, & dear Sister Matty, I should like to come on, according to your invitation, & pay you a good visit, but it is doubtful this time—My bringing out a new book is only bringing out a new edition, from the stereotype plates, the same as the last—only in one Vol—as the edition printed a year ago is all exhausted—(But I stereotyped it, & have all the plates in New York.) But I should like to have a good long visit home, & be with mother—my getting leave does not work yet as I hoped—but I expect to fix it somehow, & go home before very long—I am very well this winter—My book is flourishing in foreign lands at a great rate—I get letters from all parts of Europe—I believe I told you Tennyson had written me twice and very hearty & friendly letters, inviting me to come & be his guest, &c—Then the professors in the Universities, Dublin & elsewhere in Great Britain deliver lectures on "Leaves of Grass"—&c—But here the enemy have the ground mostly to themselves—

I suppose you see we have a new Attorney General7—It doesn't seem to make much difference to me so far—

Jeff, did the photos I sent of mother & me come to you, December?

Dear sister Mat, & Hatty & California,8 love to you all—I am writing this at my desk, toward noon, very bright & sunny, but cold enough—I often think of you all—Mat, when I go home I shall do my part at that cake you speak of in letter to mother—Wm. O'Connor9 & family have gone on a short trip to Cuba, to be back in three weeks—They are all well—

Mother told me the barrel of flour came safe—but it was too bad Mat's Christmas letter got lost—

Good bye to you for this time, Brother Jeff & Matty dear, Walt.

Mat, you write to mother often as you can—


  • 1. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. Whitman probably had his brother in mind when he praised the marvels of civil engineering in poems like "Passage to India." Though their correspondence slowed in the middle of their lives, the brothers were brought together again by the deaths of Jeff's wife Martha (known as Mattie) in 1873 and his daughter Manahatta in 1886. Jeff's death in 1890 caused Walt to reminisce in his obituary, "how we loved each other—how many jovial good times we had!" For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. 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). [back]
  • 3. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 1873) known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more information on Mattie, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), youngest sister of Walt Whitman, married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a Pennsylvania-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Hannah and Charles Heyde lived in Burlington, Vermont. For more, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. The Stantons, mentioned in Walt Whitman's December 27, 1871 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]
  • 6. "The Mystic Trumpeter," the Kansas Magazine, 1 (1872), 113–114. "Virginia—The West" appeared in the March issue, 1 (1872), 219. For page images and transcriptions of the poems as they appeared in the Kansas Magazine, see "The Mystic Trumpeter" and "Virginia—The West." In December 1872, the journal published Richard J. Hinton's "Walt Whitman in Europe" (1 [1872], 499–502), a review of European critical comment on Whitman since 1868. Probably Hinton, who was well known in Kansas (and whom Whitman mentioned as a "friend" in his April 28–May 4, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman), was responsible for the friendliness of the new magazine. [back]
  • 7. George Henry Williams (1820–1910), U.S. Senator from Oregon, served as Attorney General from 1871 to 1875. Williams dismissed Walt Whitman on June 30, 1874; Whitman "respectfully acknowledged" his dismissal in his July 1, 1874 letter to Williams. [back]
  • 8. Walt Whitman's niece, Jessie Louisa. [back]
  • 9. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. 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 Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of Harrington, an abolition novel published by Thayer & Eldridge in 1860. He had been an assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post before he went to Washington. O'Connor was one of Whitman's strongest defenders, most notably in his 1866 pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). The poet praised O'Connor in the preface to a posthumous collection of his tales: "He was born sample here in the 19th century of the flower and symbol of olden time first-class knighthood. Thrice blessed be his memory!" In 1872, while living in the O'Connors' home, Whitman strongly disagreed with O'Connor over the Fifteenth Amendment, which Whitman opposed and O'Connor supported. Ellen defended Whitman's opinion, and in response William moved out. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]
Back to top