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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 29 January [1873]

Dearest mother1,

I am writing this lying in bed—the doctor wishes me to keep as much in bed as possible—but I have to keep in, as I cannot move yet without great difficulty, & I am liable to dizziness & nausea, at times, on trying to move, or even sitting up—But I am certainly over the worst of it, & really—though slowly—improving. The doctor says there is no doubt of it—

Yesterday afternoon I eat something like a meal for the first time—boiled chicken, & some soup with bread broken up in it—relished it well—I still have many callers—only a few particular ones are admitted to see me—Mrs. O'Connor2 comes & a young woman named Mary Cole3—Mrs. Ashton has sent for me to be brought to her house, to be taken care of—of course I do not accept her offer—they live in grand style & I should be more bothered than benefitted by their refinements & luxuries, servants, &c4

Mother, I want you to know truly, that I do not want for any thing—as to all the little extra fixings & superfluities, I never did care for them in health, & they only annoy me in sickness—I have a good bed—a fire—as much grub as I wish & whatever I wish—& two or three good friends here—So I want you to not feel at all uneasy—as I write, Peter Doyle5 is sitting by the window reading—he & Charles Eldridge6 regularly come in & do whatever I want, & are both very helpful to me—one comes day time, & one evening—I had a good night's sleep last night—My mind is just as clear as ever—& has been all the time—(I have not been at all down hearted either)—(My January pay is due me, & as soon as I get up, I shall forward you your $20.)7

Dear sister Lou,8

Your letter came this morning & was very pleasant to get it—I shall be getting well soon—am on a fair way to it now—

latest ½ past 4

I have just set up & had my bed made by Pete—I am already beginning to feel something like myself—will write in 2 days—


  • 1. 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]
  • 2. Despite the gravity of Walt Whitman's condition, William O'Connor did not visit him: the breach between the two men was deep. [back]
  • 3. Mary Cole was listed in the Directories as a clerk in the Internal Revenue Department. Perhaps she was the sister of George D. Cole, a former conductor and a friend of Doyle, who wrote to Walt Whitman, probably in the early 1870's, after he had become a sailor (Yale). Clara Barrus mentions May Cole, a friend of Ellen O'Connor, who later married Dr. Frank Baker of the Smithsonian Institute (Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades, [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931].) [back]
  • 4. In June, however, Walt Whitman consented to stay with the Ashtons for about ten days; in his June 9 (?), 1873 letter to Peter Doyle, Whitman asked Doyle to visit him there. [back]
  • 5. On January 30, 1873, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote: "i thought of peter. i knew if it was in his power to be with you he would and cherefully doo everything that he could for you." [back]
  • 6. Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903) was one half of the Boston-based abolitionist publishing firm Thayer and Eldridge, who issued 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, Major Lyman Hapgood. Eldridge helped Whitman gain employment in Hapgood's office. For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge, see David Breckenridge Donlon, "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]
  • 7. Walt Whitman paid for Ed's board, $15 a month, and sent additional money to his mother. [back]
  • 8. George's wife. [back]
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