Skip to main content

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [23 October 1871]

 yal.00310.001.jpg My dear walt

i got your letter on saturday and got those you sent through the week i am pretty well except a bad cold was hoarse this morning but am somewhat better now Jeff left the pills and i think i will take some to night to see if it wont break up my cold i had a hurried letter from jeff last week2 he says after living upside down for some weeks they have concluded to stay where they are and the house is being fixed all nice that matty3 is quite smart and things goes on very good in his department) minne marys daughter and her husband called here last saturday afternoon they were married on wensday4 they are stopping at st nicholus s hotel5 new york and on saturday evening helen price6 came here and  yal.00310.002.jpg and7 stayed till yesterday sunday her mother is quite complaining with her old complaint they think rather hard of your not writing to them as her mother wrote to you while she was in the country and never heard if you ever received it)8 well walt i beleive i will write the annoyances i had last week the first was little georgeys9 coming here and wanted money for his mother i give him a little change and as i supposed he wanted it for himself as edd10 said he had a boy waiting for him outside loo11 wanted me when she was here to find out when jims birth day12 was so i wrote a little note and sent it by george for nanc13 to write it down and i beleive it was the next day nanc sent a boy here with a letter and said she was on the street the night before and dreadful to read) the boy said it was a strange boy she said he must wait for an answer i told the boy i was sorry for her but i had no money to help her she said in the letter i could take george if i wanted too14  yal.00310.003.jpg so saturday night georgey came again after money he was very ragged but i had none to give i think he is very bad boy indeed i think the saturday night he wanted it for himself) well after i had been so annoyed with the letter and georgey s coming) i had a letter from mr Heyde15 he had said in a former letter he was going to dispose of some pictures at montreal he said this in his last letter he hadent sold them yet he was waiting to hear more particulars and that he had got 150 dollr from the bank and gave his note for three months and if he had to take up any more money he should come strait to brooklyn) well walt i had to laughf i thought that was worse than nanc i dont suppose he had any idea of coming but it seemed to me so rediculous he dident say whether he was coming to live on me or what he was going to doo  yal.00310.004.jpg he said han16 was very well now he wants her to come here he says) i dont pay any attention to his rediculous writings) O walt i like to forget i got Lady Judith17 and i get all the papers you send and all the money and it comes very good sometimes i tell you my dear Walt dont worry walt about my trouble with nance and georgey it did make me feel bad and sorry for her but perhaps there was no truth in it18

this is quit a letter walt

good bie

the weathe is almost to warm here

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)."


  • 1. This letter dates to October 23, 1871. Because the date Monday is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter to January 1, 1872 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:369). Miller's date is incorrect because the letter refers to the marriage of Mary Isadore "Minnie" Van Nostrand (Louisa's granddaughter, the youngest child of Mary Van Nostrand) as having taken place on the Wednesday preceding Minnie's Saturday visit. Minnie married Leander Jay Young on October 18, 1871. The Saturday that followed Minnie's October 18 (Wednesday) marriage is October 21, so this letter, written the following Monday, dates to October 23, 1871. [back]
  • 2.

    Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) had recently returned to St. Louis after a visit to Brooklyn and his brother George Washington Whitman in Camden (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's September 15–26, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman). Thomas Jefferson Whitman's mid-October 1871 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant, but the report on his housing situation matches his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman's October 22, 1871 letter to Louisa (see following note).

    Jeff Whitman 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. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

  • 3.

    Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman described their choice to stay and fix up their current residence after Jeff Whitman's return from his trip east: "I suppose Jeff told you that we were going to move but after he came back we were out about a week looking for a house and we found we couldn't find any as good as the one we are in for the same rent so we went to work and fixed this one and what with Plumbers, Carpenters, Chimney-sweeps, painters, and house cleaners I have had my hands full but we are nicely fixed now" (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1971], 72).

    Mattie 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. For more on Mattie, see Waldron, Mattie, 1–26.

  • 4. Mary Isadore "Minnie" Van Nostrand (1851–1938) was the daughter of Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's elder daughter, and Mary's husband Ansel Van Nostrand. Minnie married Leander Jay Young (1846–1937) on October 18, 1871 (see Gertrude A. Barber, compiler, "Marriages of Suffolk County, N.Y. Taken from the 'Republican Watchman': A Newspaper Published at Greenport, N.Y. Years 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876," [1950], 1:3, For more on the Van Nostrand family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]
  • 5. The St. Nicholas Hotel on Broadway was one of New York City's premiere hotels in the 1870s and was a favorite among the "flashily-dressed, loud-voiced, and self-asserting" people (James D. McCabe, Lights and Shadows of New York Life: or, the Sights and Sensations of the Great City [Philadelphia: National Publishing, 1872], 306). The Van Nostrands inherited wealth after the death of Ansel's mother Fanny Van Nostrand in March 1868 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 24, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman), and Louisa hinted at their propensity toward lavish display after they received the inheritance (see her October 19, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]
  • 6. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, 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 ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [back]
  • 7. The word "and" is the last word on the first page and is repeated as the first word on the second page. [back]
  • 8. Abby Price's October? 1871 letter to Walt Whitman is not known (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 2:369). Abby Price's "old complaint" is asthma (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's January 17, 1867 letter to Walt). For Walt Whitman's relationship with Abby Price (1814–1878) and family, see Sherry Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 45–95. [back]
  • 9. George "Georgy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]
  • 10. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 11. Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Lou" or "Loo," married George Washington Whitman in spring 1871, and they were soon living at 322 Stevens Street in Camden, New Jersey. At the insistence of George and his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward departed from Brooklyn to live with George and Lou in the Stevens Street house in August 1872, with Walt Whitman responsible for Edward's board. Her health in decline, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was displeased with the living arrangement and confided many frustrations, often directed at Lou, in her letters to Walt. She never developed the close companionship with Lou that she had with Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. [back]
  • 12. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the oldest son of Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863), Walt Whitman's brother, and Andrew's widow Nancy McClure. Jimmy's birthday is not known, but he was a young boy when his father Andrew died in December 1863. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman provided an extended description of Jimmy when he was in the care of George Washington Whitman and Louisa Orr Whitman in 1872 (see her July 31 or August 7, 1872 letter to Walt). [back]
  • 13. Nancy McClure Whitman was the wife of Walt Whitman's brother, Andrew Jackson Whitman. James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy" were Nancy and Andrew's sons, and Nancy was pregnant with Andrew, Jr., when her husband died in December 1863. Andrew, Jr., died in 1868, and Georgy died in 1872. For Nancy and her children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]
  • 14. As early as December 1867, the family of Nancy McClure, her brother Edward and his wife Jane McClure, enlisted the assistance of the Whitmans to have Nancy's children removed from her care (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's December 15, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). In spring 1868, Louisa asked Walt to write Andrew Jackson Whitman's friend James Cornwell, a judge in City Hall, about placing the children in an orphan asylum (see Louisa's May? 1868 and her June 25, 1868 letters to Walt). Nothing became of that effort, but Andrew, Jr., the child born the spring following Andrew's death in 1863, was run over by a brewery wagon in September 1868 (see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 397–398). December 1871 seemed to mark a turning point in Nancy McClure's attitude toward keeping the children in her care. Jimmy, Nancy's eldest son, lived for a time with George Washington Whitman and Louisa Orr Whitman in 1872 (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's July 31 or August 7, 1872 letter to Walt). Though the cause of Jimmy's younger brother Georgy's death is not known, he was killed in October 1872 (see Manahatta Whitman's October 26, 1872 letter to Louisa [Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress]). [back]
  • 15. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's husband, was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]
  • 16. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]
  • 17. See Justin McCarthy, Lady Judith: A Tale of Two Continents (New York: Sheldon, 1871). [back]
  • 18. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman canceled the word "her" before "it." [back]
Back to top