Title: "walter dear": The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt
Author(s): Wesley Raabe
Publication information: Written for the Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2014.
Whitman Archive ID: anc.02046
Louisa Van Velsor Whitman closed a letter to Walt three times with the short command, "burn this letter."1 Her desire that what she had written would not be shared after the moment's frustration had passed—her anger that her visiting son Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman had not paid for the food that they had consumed, or her frustration that son George Washington Whitman was no longer as generous to her as formerly—signals her deep trust in the poet. She shared her complaints with him as a confidant. Louisa relied on Walt to ease the irritations endemic to limited financial means—which he did by enclosing small sums of cash in most of his letters to her—and she was able to manage the everyday frustrations of working-class life by putting her annoyance into the written word.
The letters that she wished Walt to destroy—witness today that at least in some instances he neglected her wishes or chose to disregard her will—are deeply disquieting. They remind us that her letters were personal and not public, intended by Louisa for Walt but also to be forwarded—or not—only within the family. But we should not be naïve about Walt's violation of Louisa's trust: she well knew that he sometimes forwarded her letters within the family as a reminder or rebuke, and her letter of complaint to Walt carried both the risk and promise that he would intervene on her behalf. Her faith in Walt was not absolute, for she sometimes chose to spare him the full truth. On December 4, 1863, the body of her deceased son Andrew Jackson Whitman laid in state on another floor of the Portland Avenue house. That evening Louisa's eldest and mentally disturbed son Jesse Whitman had a vicious outburst toward Jeff's wife Mattie and their three-year-old daughter Manahatta. When Louisa described Andrew's death to Walt on the evening that Andrew died, she closed her letter with the phrase "composed and ca[lm?]" and had no intent to distract from the solemnity that she wished to convey by including a description of Jesse's outburst. She added to her letter the next day because she feared that Jeff would send Walt a more inflammatory account. With her initial hope to withhold from Walt the full extent of the previous night's episode with Jesse, Louisa may have sought to avoid compounding the desolation of grief.
Her December 4–5, 1863 letter has an affinity to the tenderness in Walt's best-known Civil War poetry: her private letters, whose complaints are directed at those who are long dead, have blended into Walt's purpose in preserving them as a memorial of their relationship. That I edit them and that the Walt Whitman Archive publishes them are only the most recent acts, which build on the efforts of generations, that of Walt and his disciple-executors, of collectors and archivists, and of scholars and funding bodies who have undertaken and supported their preservation and study. Her letters offer insight into Walt's life, but they are more important for their insights into Louisa's own life as a subject worthy of our attention today.
Walt ensured that a large number of Louisa's letters to him would be preserved, and recent scholars have offered sympathetic readings of them. But she remains a challenging figure because one of Walt's most well-known statements about her influence on him touches the core of his great poem. Walt claimed, in conversation with Horace L. Traubel, that she was "illiterate in the formal sense" but that Leaves of Grass was the "flower of her temperament active in me."2 Walt's conceit about his mother's importance resists critical analysis, but the many readings of that quotation, especially whether one emphasizes the word "temperament" or "illiterate," do provide a rough index to the sometimes overlapping periods in the critical commentary on Louisa. Walt's early disciples emphasized her temperament as an influence on his poetry in the context of Victorian motherhood (1880–1940); this early Louisa, the ideal that Walt celebrated, gave way to a phase that emphasized the great poet's struggle to overcome his domineering mother (1940–1970). After scholarly critics agreed that Louisa's malevolent dominance was fundamental to Walt's psychological makeup, her illiteracy emerged (1960–1995) as a necessary aspect of her malevolent influence, part of the temperament that Walt had to overcome. The present period (1996– ) has rejected her corrosive psychological influence and instead leaned on Walt's qualification "formal sense," a phase of criticism that has inspired close reading of her archival letters both as cultural documents and as contributions to Walt's poetic voice. After a brief review of this critical heritage, I will examine a passage from a May 1868 letter that may suggest to some the grounds for her illiteracy. I will argue instead that it illustrates Walt's claim, in the same August 1888 conversation with Traubel, for his mother's "great mimetic power."3
Walt's disciples echoed his insistence on Louisa's robust health and celebrated her admirable temperament, but the matter of her literacy was of no consequence for the ideology of Republican motherhood that he extolled in Democratic Vistas (1871)—and for which he offered his mother as an exemplar. John Burroughs, after an 1868 visit to Brooklyn, described her: "A spry, vivacious, handsome old lady, worthy of her illustrious son." Later, he blessed Walt's opinion that she was the "perfect woman and mother."4 A recent reviewer of Whitman biographies deadpanned that Burroughs's descriptions of her "could have been embroidered on a Victorian sampler."5 Another disciple, Richard Maurice Bucke, praised her as "remarkably healthy and strong, had a kind, generous heart, good sense, and a cheerful and even temper."6 For Walt, who believed in ancestral inheritance of personal qualities, his own claims for good health and good habits required a parent, his mother, to bestow them. His celebration of her temperament and health went unquestioned by his earliest disciples, and her illiteracy was a matter of no moment.
Louisa's illiteracy emerged as a topic slightly later, with the first generation of Whitman's scholarly biographers, who sought a psychological subtext within Walt's family background that his poetry could transcend. The Louisa who served this purpose was granted a functional literacy but denied the ability to understand Walt's poetry. Walt's brother George in conversation with Traubel had claimed that both he and his mother found Leaves of Grass incomprehensible: "Mother thought as I did—did not know what to make of it. [. . . .] I remember mother comparing Hiawatha to Walt's, and the one seemed to us pretty much the same muddle as the other. Mother said that if Hiawatha was poetry, perhaps Walt's was."7 Because Louisa's inability to understand her son's poetry seemed the precondition for the stunted psychological growth that he overcame in his poetry—but not in his personal and sexual life—Henry Seidel Canby makes her temperament a fundamental quality: "she was one of those ample women, wise and of great heart, who powerfully hold together families and succeed by character and love." For her literacy, by contrast, Canby resorts to an odd paradox, that she was "as near illiterate as one can be who can read and write."8 These hints at her illiteracy would not yet hold sway in criticism: two early studies, Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver's selection of family letters and Gay Wilson Allen's biography, were exceptionally sympathetic toward Louisa. Faint Clews & Indirections (1949) offers the full text of fifteen of her letters, and Gohdes and Silver detect a "noble lustre" in her eyes.9 In The Solitary Singer (1949) Allen reported George's opinion as representative of the entire Whitman family's attitude toward Walt's poetry—that they could not "understand it when it was in print"—but he quoted also from many of Louisa's letters, including her comments on reviews of Walt's poetry, and thereby affirmed her basic literacy.10
A scholar of the succeeding generation, Edwin Haviland Miller, did not label Louisa illiterate but did insist that her personality was a psychologically debilitating burden for the poet. In Walt Whitman's Poetry: A Psychological Journey (1968), Miller referred to Louisa's "aggressive nature," her "emasculating rule" over the family, and the "nagging querulousness" in her letters.11 Miller, editor of the The Correspondence (1961–1977), extended the influence of his emphasis on familial burdens in his explanatory annotations to the letters, which when citing Louisa's letters often highlight her complaints, lack of humor, and bitterness. After psychological readings became widespread in literary biography—and domineering mothers were identified as a cause for homosexuality12—critics assumed that Louisa's illiteracy could underscore the familial influences that Walt overcame: one called her "illiterate" and referred to her "inability to read," and another designated her a "semi-literate mother."13
These two related phases of Whitman scholarship, which lasted from the 1940s into the 1990s, are now long past but are the foreground from which the current phase of more sympathetic interest in Louisa emerged. Studies by Sherry Ceniza and by Michael Moon and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, all of whom read widely within the archival letters, offer a far more sympathetic portrait of Louisa. Ceniza argues that the absence of punctuation in her writing is not a fault but a stylistic virtue: "her letters begin to take on a life of their own, demanding a new relationship between the reader and text." She also counters Miller's Correspondence annotations with expanded contextual analysis, and she notes that many critics' statements on the poet's mother are factually inaccurate.14 Sedgwick and Moon quote from many of Louisa's letters: the former offers Walt's relationship with his mother as a partial antidote to "the whole landscape of thinking about gay men and their mothers," and the latter catalogs Louisa's linguistic gifts, her "sheer love of articulation and narration" and her "pithy framing of pitiless truths."15 Whitman's recent scholarly biographers—Justin Kaplan, Jerome Loving, and David S. Reynolds—have offered sympathetic (but not extended) analyses of his relationship to Louisa. By contrast, Robert Roper in Now the Drum of War (2008), his family biography of the Civil War years, refers to Louisa's letters in the Trent Collection at Duke University as one of the "true treasures [that] helped shape my sense of the inner life of the Whitman family." He quotes Louisa's letters extensively and lauds her "quicksilver intelligence and unostentatious decency."16 Given this transformation in critical opinion, the present moment is apt to initiate a new phase of study by making all of her known letters to Walt available in facsimile and annotated transcription, available both to scholars and to the general public.
Attempting to read the letters, some may find that her unmarked syntactic units offer significant challenges, but the manuscripts nonetheless remain essential documents for family biography. The letters enrich Walt's biography from the publication of the 1860 Leaves of Grass through his Civil War hospital work, during Reconstruction when first William D. O'Connor and others began elevating his reputation as a poet, and through the intense period of correspondence between Walt's January 1873 stroke and Louisa's death in May of the same year. Her letters to a brief extent also comment on periods in her life preceding the letters. The newly identified and newly dated letters in this edition—the first comprehensive analysis undertaken—offer a rich portrait of her life, of Walt's close emotional affinity to her and of her emotional and financial dependence upon him, and of family dramas during just over a dozen years. This digital edition, "walter dear": The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt, includes this introduction and one hundred seventy letters from her to him. This edition corrects some misunderstandings about Whitman family biography, and it offers Louisa the opportunity to put to rest questions about her literacy, to assert her dignity in her own words, and—though an editor cannot escape complicity in Walt's effort to shape his mother's memory—to complicate some of Walt's efforts to shape her legacy and his own.
When encountering her letters for the first time, hold in mind Louisa's insistence to her own son that the reader bears the burden of understanding. She once reminded Walt that he might need to expend effort to grasp her message: "if you cant understand walter dear you must read it over two or three times)."17 Louisa's "walter dear" would not have found her demand off-putting: he sympathized with her concerns, read her letters in series (most no more than a day or two after she wrote them), and was long accustomed to extracting phrases from a stream of words unbroken by formal punctuation. In a mid-May 1868 letter, she described a household incident from the day before, and it is one of the more challenging passages in the entire letters corpus:
Edd came up stairs yesterday towards evening before the eagle came the eagle came down stairs and the man i think is a democ[rat?] he said to Edd the radicals were all down or something to that affect so eddy came up like mad saying they had cleared the bugge[rs?] and he would never have any thing more to doo withe them i how doo you know he is clear he said it was in the eagle that it wou[ld?] be better to have no congress at all than to doo as they had it was quite amusing to see eddy is such a gale but when i got the paper i see how things were)18
Editorial transcription will of course aid reading for those unfamiliar with her hand, but transcription adds complexity of another sort. The characters in square brackets are not fully legible in the manuscript, and the question mark before the closing bracket signals uncertainty. Even when transcribed, however, her words are unfamiliar in a dual sense: they are not from family and are removed in time from our own moment as readers. Scholarly annotation is needed to provide basic personal and cultural contexts. In this case, the "eagle" is the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a Democratic-leaning newspaper; Edward (Edd) is her mentally and physically disabled son; and the unnamed man downstairs identifies with the Democratic party. Louisa generally preferred Republican ideals: her son George had risked his life in war, and Walt's employment was under Republican administrations, as a clerk in the nation's capital. Both Louisa and George agreed that the efforts of Radical Republicans to reassert control over Reconstruction and to impeach Andrew Johnson were justified, though Louisa became ambivalent about the prospect of removing the president from office.
Nonetheless, even with these basic contexts understood, Louisa's act of mimicry places real demands on readers. She reported to Walt Edward's exchange with the unnamed Democrat and her teasing interaction with Edward as he struggled to convey the exchange to her. After the Democrat said "the radicals were all down," Edward became agitated. Louisa dramatizes Edward's report of the Democrat's words, her interruption to seek clarification, and her son's growing exasperation. Yet her disregard of conventional punctuation may well threaten our ability to understand her: "he would never have any thing more to doo withe them i how doo you know he is clear he said." A reader can easily lose track of who "he" is—Edward or the Democrat—and what "he" says. The key word is "i," which marks a change in speakers.
The passage can be rendered more straightforward by marking syntactic units with punctuation and by adding explanatory words: "I [said], 'how do you know?' Edd is clear [the Democrat] said, 'it was in the eagle [….]' It [Edd's reaction] was quite amusing […]." This annotated quotation-paraphrase offers a reasonable reading, but it is not the only one that a reader could devise. Alternate readings and disagreements about emphasis are to be expected when serious readers take up these transcriptions and their manuscript source, but this short passage—you might try reading it a second or third time—demonstrates what Walt considered her "mimetic power": she performs with remarkable economy both Edward's encounter with the Democrat and her conversation with Edward in a mere one hundred fifteen words. As Ceniza has suggested, Louisa's words will "take on a life of their own" in other minds.19
Louisa's letters generally lack punctuation aside from one mark that resembles a closing parenthesis, and her spelling is inconsistent and sometimes phonetic for rarely used words. It is unlikely that she had access to primary schooling or tutoring, and one can detect no hint of formal instruction in writing. But she nonetheless managed from a smattering of instruction, access to printed and handwritten texts, and force of will to acquire the ability to write. What her letters lack in conventional correctness—and we should be cautious even about that conclusion because manuscripts from early nineteenth-century authors often seem careless to us when regarded with the standards for spelling and syntactical punctuation in later decades—is of little matter against their considerable power and expressiveness. That is what Walt's qualification "formal sense" must mean, and Ceniza's description of her writing with Walt's phrase "family usages" from "There Was a Child Went Forth" is apt.20 Her private letters are her only known writing, but they exhibit a substantially realized power of verbal expression. The remainder of this introduction—before it turns to editorial policies—provides a biography of her life before the letters, a review of her life in the periods during which her letters are extant, notes on how her newly edited letters alter previously assumed details about Whitman family lives, and a review of how her letters can contribute to a better understanding of her relationship to Walt and can help to identify possible influences on his poetry.
The biographical notes on the early life of Louisa Van Velsor, born on September 22, 1795 to Cornelius Van Velsor (1768–1837) and Naomi "Amy" Williams (1762–1826), are drawn from the poet's recollections to John Burroughs in Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1871) and from those same recollections again refracted through Walt's memory in Specimen Days (1882) and in his conversations with Traubel. The Van Velsor homestead was on Long Island, and Walt in Specimen Days described his grandfather, "The Major," who bred horses, as "jovial, red, stout, with sonorous voice."21 Amy Williams was descended from a sea-faring family: Louisa's maternal grandfather John Williams and his only son died at sea. Walt described his maternal grandmother Amy as "a Friend, or Quakeress, of sweet, sensible character, housewifely proclivities, and deeply intuitive and spiritual."22 Walt's mother Louisa was not a practicing Quaker herself, but Walt insisted that "her leanings were that way—her sympathies: her fundamental emotional tendencies."23 And he emphasized her robust health, describing her in youth as a "daily and daring rider."24
Walt's remarks on his Van Velsor ancestors and his mother's health before her marriage and through his own early adulthood should be accepted with caution, if accepted at all. Many of Louisa's children suffered ill health, both mental and physical: Walt himself had signs of hypertension in his forties and suffered a serious stroke in his fifties. He was well past middle age when he recounted his family history to Burroughs, so he may exhibit his mother's splendid health in her youth—like her temperament—for the purpose of poetic self-fashioning. Be that as it may, Louisa when a young woman was courted by Walter Whitman, Sr. (1789–1855), a skilled carpenter who had built a house near a twenty-acre apple orchard on West Hills; they married in June 1816.25 The farming homestead from which the family of Walter, Sr., hailed at the turn of the century represented comparative wealth in land and slaves.26 But Walter, Sr., was reduced in social and economic status to subsistence farming. The Whitman family's financial difficulties stretched back at least a decade before the marriage, which may be why Walter, Sr., in his teens was apprenticed as a carpenter to Jacob Whitman, an older cousin, in New York.27 There Walt's father likely encountered Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary figure with the greatest appeal to the working class and artisans of the era. We know little of Louisa's future husband as a young man, but we may speculate that he like his son was able to wander freely in New York streets during an era marked by enthusiasm for the possibilities of public education and religious and social reform but also by laissez faire acceptance of poverty, prostitution, cheap drink, and public entertainments that would periodically devolve into violence.
Louisa as a young woman may well have shared her husband's enthusiasm for the social promises of a reforming age—Walter, Sr., is well known for his admiration of Quaker reformer Elias Hicks and woman's rights advocate Frances Wright28—and her extended reading of newspapers and magazines during the years in which her letters survive suggest that she followed the same social currents in young adulthood that her husband did. Neither Walter, Sr., nor Louisa were members of an organized church, but the Whitman children may have received some education in Brooklyn's church-affiliated primary schools, including the Episcopal and Dutch Reformed.29 Louisa shared her husband's admiration for Hicks, who preached the value of Inner Light against the authority of ordained clergy, and Walt credited his mother for introducing him to Hicks.30 Walt's brother George claimed that their mother "pretended to be a Baptist": the matter of "pretending" cannot be documented in her letters, but she found the words of a Baptist minister consoling after her husband's funeral in 1855.31 Her youngest son Edward was a devout parishioner of Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church, though Louisa never mentioned joining him there herself. She was not devout and adhered to no particular creed, but the death of two sons and a daughter-in-law drew from her expressions of resignation to the will of a higher power.
Initial aspirations that Louisa and her husband shared of an intellectual or public reform bent must have been dampened by the hardships—financial and physical—that marked their early marriage. For Louisa the two- and three-year cycles of pregnancy and childbirth that dominated her life between 1818 and 1835 surely exacted a physical and emotional toll. Before the second anniversary of her marriage, she gave birth on March 2, 1818 to her first son Jesse, and Walter followed on May 31, 1819. (The poet would be known generally in his family as Walt, but Louisa's letters refer often to her son by his full name Walter.) The birth of Louisa's first daughter Mary Elizabeth followed just under two years after the poet's, on February 3, 1821. We have no Whitman family accounts from this period, but the year of Jesse's birth coincided with the beginning of widespread suffering among working class people following the "Panic of 1818," a period known colloquially as "hard times." London banks reined in credit at the conclusion of the Napoleonic conflicts, and the credit contraction cycled into North America. The newly-formed Bank of the United States squeezed state banks, which in turn stopped redeeming paper specie with gold and called in their loans from tenant farmers.32 Reduced to subsistence farming and cutting firewood instead of skilled carpentry, Walter, Sr., sold the West Hills homestead in 1823, a choice that reflected personal financial hardship but was in accord with the wider economic turmoil of the period.
On May 27, 1823, Walter, Sr., moved Louisa and their three children under five years of age to the port city of Brooklyn, thirty miles west, at the mouth end of Walt's "fish-shape Paumanok," Long Island. They settled into a rented house on Front Street near Main Street, also known as New Ferry Road.33 But settled is an inapt word because the family's first decade in Brooklyn was marked by dizzying address changes and childbirths. Louisa, already pregnant when the family departed West Hills, gave birth to daughter Hannah Louisa Whitman in Brooklyn on November 28, 1823.34 Shortly after Hannah's birth, the family moved to Cranberry Street, and then in September 1824 Walter, Sr., purchased a lot on the corner of Washington and Johnson. With this purchase he began speculative housebuilding, a business that his sons Walt and George would later follow, which ideally produced a cycle of "buy, build, sell, and move all over again."35 According to Walt, the first houses on Front, Cranberry, and Johnson Street (at the corner of Washington) were "mortgaged, and we lost them."36 Even the ideal cycle of such a business could hardly have been welcome for a mother with many young children—and Louisa's later letters show a distaste for moving—but Louisa's other sources of grief during this period may have made financial hardship secondary. A son, who was never christened, was born to Louisa and Walter, Sr., in March 1825, and died six months later on September 14, 1825.37 Louisa's mother Amy Williams died in February 1826, compounding her grief during one of the darkest periods of her life.
The family's subsequent Brooklyn homes were on Van Dykes (1826), Adams (1827), Tillary (May 1827), and another house also on Tillary and Adams, probably the one at which the family remained from late 1827 through November 1831, which was followed by a move to Henry Street.38 The real estate records are incomplete, but it is quite likely, as David S. Reynolds surmises, that the first house on Johnson and one of the houses on Tillary were not part of a buy-build-sell cycle but were mortgaged, lost, and subsequently rented back.39 Just before the first move to a house on Tillary, Louisa bore the first of three sons to be named after a former American president, Andrew Jackson Whitman on April 7, 1827. The two sons who followed in approximately three-year intervals also bore presidential namesakes, George Washington Whitman on November 28, 1829 and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman on July 18, 1833. At the time of Jeff's birth, the older children, from Jesse through Andrew, were attending or (within five or six years) had matriculated through a public primary school in Brooklyn on Adams and Concord Streets. Tutors and private schools had long served the social and economic elite, but public schooling for families like the Whitmans was another concrete sign of possibilities in a reforming age and an opportunity to cultivate a range of social acquaintances.40
The conditions of Louisa's early marriage must remain speculative, but Walt's memories and some comments in her letters suggest that she was deeply unhappy. Walter, Sr., was unlikely to have aided with the mundane but grueling tasks of childcare and housework—scrubbing clothes and floors, canning, baking, and daily cooking—and such stresses along with serial childbirths may have contributed to the extended illness or depression that followed Jeff's birth. One telling remark about Louisa's childbearing years appears in her letters. Her daughter-in-law Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (referred to in this introduction as "Louisa Orr" to distinguish her), who was suspected pregnant, was confined to bed, carried by her husband up and down the stairs, and attended by an aunt, an ordering of affairs that surprised Louisa: "its seems so different from what i have always had to go through)."41
Further, Walter, Sr., may have contributed significantly to his wife's suffering, especially if his frustrations with financial setbacks and his probable dependency on alcohol led to emotional and physical abuse. According to Reynolds, one cause for financial hardship may have been that Walter, Sr., insisted on handcrafted work, which made it difficult for him to compete with "the more modern technique of prefabricated parts installed by specialized workers."42 According to Burroughs, Walt recalled his father as having been "one time addicted to alcohol."43 Jerome M. Loving identifies alcoholism, the compulsion that also wracked Walt's brothers Jesse and Andrew, as a possible contributor to the failed mortgages of Walter, Sr., in the early Brooklyn years.44 The poet's "father" in Leaves of Grass (1855)—"strong, selfsufficient, manly, mean, angered, unjust / The blow, the quick loud word"—may well reflect some qualities of the relationship between Walter, Sr., and his son, as many biographers assume. The same qualities would have made him a difficult or, more accurately, abusive husband. Louisa's letters support a reasonable suspicion that she endured in marriage episodes of physical or emotional abuse. Louisa did not describe her own marriage, but her description of verbal and physical altercations in other marriages—some of which include physical violence and emotional harassment—suggest that behavior which by today's standards might qualify as spousal abuse seemed to her a familiar part of married life. When her son Andrew went on drinking binges, Louisa blamed his doing so on the poor housekeeping of his wife Nancy.45 The husband of Louisa's neighbor Janey (or Jenne) Chapell "knocked her down": Louisa approved Janey's fighting spirit in such encounters with her husband—"gives as much back as she gets"—and disparaged her own daughter Hannah's silent suffering in response to her husband Charles Heyde's verbal abuse.46
One of the few positive mentions of the temperament of Walter, Sr., appears in Walt's September 1863 letter to his mother, in which a soldier who "often made me think of father" is described as "large, slow, good natured" and "shrewd, very little to say."47 Yet if what Louisa endured as a young woman did not approach the obvious abuse that her neighbor Janey suffered decades later, the phrase "little to say" also delineates a significant difference between husband and wife. Louisa was a gifted conversationalist and probably quite voluble. The Louisa of the letters was socially engaged, read multiple periodicals, and cultivated a wide circle of friends. She visited many of Walt's and Jeff's friends and had a wide network of her own, including Abby Price and her two daughters, neighbors Grace Haight, Mrs. Black, and Margret Steers, and Anna Van Wyck. Louisa's Myrtle Street friend Grace Haight recalled her gift for conversation: a rap at Louisa's door elicited the call "come in" and the greeting "How do you do, Grace," both familiar preludes to "pleasantly pass[ing?] an evening with you" engaged in talk and harmless gossip.48 Louisa's surviving letters to Walt mention her husband of almost thirty-nine years only twice, once after Andrew's December 1863 death—her son has been buried as close as possible to his father's grave—and a second time several years later to recall that the wish of Walter, Sr., to everyone was "good luck to you."49
Shortly before Jeff's birth in 1833, the family departed Brooklyn to return to West Hills, and from this period Walt's early writings and his later recollections suggest that Louisa's health was seriously compromised and that he, when a young teen, began both to rebel against his father and to assume a semi-parental role for his siblings. The family, though not the two eldest sons Jesse and Walt, the latter a printer's apprentice in New York, departed Brooklyn in May 1833 and settled in Norwich in 1834.50 The disposition of Walter, Sr., to drink and his many failed financial transactions may have led to the family's removal from Brooklyn, but the family soon found relief from financial stress with the sale of a portion of inherited West Hills land for $2,250.51 The sale, which fell near the death of Hannah Brush, the mother of Walter, Sr., preceded by about a year the birth of the Whitmans youngest child Edward on August 9, 1835, who suffered physical deformity of his limbs, epileptic seizures, and limited mental capacity. He remained in his mother's care until her death. Walt, who visited his family often during the period before Edward's birth, recalled that his mother had been "very ill for a long time."52
The Whitman family spent the ten years from 1836 through 1845 in various rural Long Island villages: Hempstead in May 1836, Babylon in August 1836, Long Swamp in spring 1837, and Smithtown in fall of the same year.53 Walt taught in eight schools at locations near his family but was eventually drawn back to the newspaper and printing trade.54 His "Our Boys and Girls," a sketch of reminiscence published in May 1844 but probably drafted earlier, provides a charming, though overdrawn and allegorical, portrait of his siblings. One "niece" and the three "nephews" in the sketch share the names of four of Walt's siblings, and the others, though unnamed, are easily identified. Hannah, by her middle name "Louisa," is the "fairest and most delicate of human blossoms," and her toddler brother (Edward) is an "imp of mischief" with a "stout pair of dumpy hands." Walt reports formerly having carried his younger brother George Washington on his shoulders, having taught Thomas Jefferson to read, and wrestling with his younger brother Andrew Jackson. Walt issues a stern sentimental warning to the unnamed Mary, aged fourteen, a "beautiful girl": "Flattery comes too often to her ears." According to the sketch, two children in the family have died, a boy who was buried "in the early summer" and a girl was buried "a mere month only after she came into the world."55 Because conventional sentiment blends with autobiography in the sketch, a deceased infant girl, not mentioned elsewhere, is most likely a sentimental creation serving the impulse to balance the other lost child. Walt—aged 25 when the sketch was first published but depicting the family in 1835 when he was in his teens—sketches himself in the "exercise of a semi-parental role."56 That Walt had begun to assume the role a decade earlier may also reflect a sentimental revision, but he had replaced his father as the source for family necessities by the time of the sketch's publication. Whatever anxieties Walt had entertained for his sister Mary's future a decade before the sketch's publication had become moot: she married Ansel Van Nostrand and moved to Greenport in May 1840, the same month that the Whitman family moved again, to Dix Hills.57
Robert Roper argues persuasively that Walt as a young journalist was enterprising and ambitious and that during the Civil War he "worked until he collapsed."58 The same tendency toward hard work was present also during his antebellum stint as a housebuilder. Charles E. Feinberg concluded only that Walt was "modestly successful in business matters" before publishing Leaves of Grass, but Feinberg debunked thoroughly the idle loafer of Walt's own poetic myth.59 Nonetheless, the constant moves that were required when building houses on speculation with limited capital—practiced in Brooklyn first by Walter, Sr., from 1823 through 1833 and again in 1844, by his son Walt perhaps as early as 1845 but avidly between 1848 and 1854, and by Walt's brother George between 1866 and 1870—must have worn on Louisa. She was dependent on each while he was engaged in the business, and subject to its vagaries. The Whitman family returned to Brooklyn in 1844, where Walter, Sr., in October bought a lot on Prince Street. The family lived briefly on Gold Street and then moved into a house that Walter, Sr., (probably with the assistance of his sons Walt and George) had completed at 71 Prince Street, where Walt joined them.60 According to Feinberg, Walt (not his father) in 1845 purchased a lot on Prince Street, and he built a house on 106 Myrtle Avenue to which the family moved in April 1848. Walt sold that house in 1852 and moved the family to a two-story house on Cumberland Street—Walt built two more houses on the same street—at which the family remained for one year.61 When the receipts and real estate records assembled by Feinberg and Molinoff are aligned to Walt's own manuscript record of the homes in which his family lived, the constant impulse in Louisa's letters—to settle and remain in a modest house—is easily understood. Children continued to depart the household—Hannah left Brooklyn for Vermont after her marriage to Charles Heyde in 1852. That her children were older may have eased the physical burdens of Louisa's home life, but the housebuilding business had prevented her finding a place to settle for an extended time. The Whitman family moved to Skillman Street near Myrtle in April 1854.62
The year 1855 is well known for its significance in the poet's life, and it marked an epoch in his mother's as well: Walt purchased a home for Louisa in her own name on Ryerson Street in May and published Leaves of Grass in July. Walter, Sr., died shortly after Walt's book was first offered for sale. Louisa's deed for the Ryerson Street house was intended to be permanent and out of her husband's reach. A legally binding note gave her full power over the property "without concurrence of her husband at any time during the present or any future couverture."63 But of these three events in her life, only the Ryerson Street house would prove impermanent. Walt again purchased a house for his mother at the corner of Graham and Willoughby in April 1856, and the family moved to 77 Classon Avenue in May 1856, at which Walt shared an upper attic with his brother Edward.64 Bronson Alcott's visit to the Classon Avenue house on November 9, 1856, accompanied by Henry David Thoreau, supplies the earliest first-person account of Louisa, "a stately sensible matron believing in Walter absolutely and telling us how good he was and wise as a boy"; Alcott returned the next day and again chatted with Walt's "fond mother."65 Two more moves followed, to two different North Portland Avenue houses between May 1859 and 1860. The latter, a rental on North Portland near Myrtle Street with a portion sublet to a family named Brown,66 remained Louisa's home during the Civil War. Her earliest extant letters are addressed to Walt in Boston, where he was supervising the preparation of the 1860 Leaves of Grass, and from this period forward her letters begin to complement Walt's and Jeff's as the authoritative record for her final thirteen years of life.
Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's extant letters to Walt, which date from just before the start of Civil War in 1860 through her death near the midpoint of Reconstruction in 1873, have a wide range of linguistic tenors, from moments of profound grief to gossipy reports on day-to-day life. Because daily life generally included reading a newspaper, the subjects in Louisa's letters also include public events that range from reviews of Walt's poems to long-forgotten sensations in her city of Brooklyn. Any division of her life or letters into sets risks emphasizing some aspects of her life over others. With my choice to separate her letters into three basic periods I have highlighted Louisa's sense of domestic stability, the factor that was fundamental to her sense of emotional independence.
During the first period, 1860 through spring 1867, Louisa resided with her son Jeff and his family for a span that enveloped the Civil War, and this period came to a close when Jeff departed for St. Louis in spring 1867. The second period, from spring 1867 through summer 1872, could be divided in half but is treated as one period because the years are those in which Louisa remained in Brooklyn with considerable personal freedom despite financial dependence on son George's housebuilding business. During the first part of this period, Louisa endured three years of temporary residences as George's business was buffeted by postwar economic turmoil. Her housing uncertainty during the first part of this period gave way to two years of general stability in Brooklyn: Louisa achieved comparative independence—despite declining health and continuing reliance on Walt for financial support—in a Portland Avenue home that George provided. Toward the end of the second period, in spring 1871, George married Louisa Orr Haslam and moved to Camden, New Jersey. Louisa remained in the city with son Edward as the only constant presence among her immediate family, though George and his wife and Walt visited frequently, the latter often for extended periods. The third period of her letters, the most brief, began in fall 1872 with Louisa's arrival in Camden, where she resided with George and Louisa Orr until her death in May 1873. The periods so designated correspond roughly with the Civil War and Walt's hospital work (period 1), early Reconstruction and the growth of Walt's public reputation as a poet (period 2), and the election of Ulysses S. Grant to his second term in late 1872 and Walt's paralytic stroke in January 1873 (period 3). All three periods are marked by Louisa's devotion to caring for her disabled son Edward and by her dependence upon and by her unflagging devotion to Walt.
After an initial description of the general contours of each period, I highlight some of the most important letters with an emphasis on those that illustrate Louisa's personality and family relations. Louisa's letters have been studied thoroughly for factual detail by Walt's biographers and by previous editors of family letters, so I place somewhat greater emphasis on the letters which suggest that scholars have reached dubious or questionable conclusions about the social dynamic of her own interests within Whitman family life. I address her life neither primarily as a lens on larger social events nor as a reflection of her son Walt's life but as a working-class life of interest on its own terms, one which offers secondary insight into these related subjects. Notes on immediate family, on her children and on their families aside from Walt follow discussion of the three periods. The introduction then turns to possible implications of her letters for the study of Walt's life and writings before concluding with matters of editorial policy.
Between 1860 and 1867, Louisa's life was fractured by the death of her son Andrew Jackson Whitman, and her empathy for his wife Nancy and their three children was worn down by the strains of the Civil War. Louisa in one sense was unusually fortunate: despite having four sons of military age and of at least marginal physical suitability only George and Andrew served and only George's service was extended and included battle. Nonetheless, the economic and social upheaval of the war took a significant toll on the Whitman family. During the period of her earliest extant letters, Walt was in Boston to work with publisher Thayer & Eldridge, but within little more than two years Walt's letters about his hospital visits joined George's letters from the front to bring the devastating costs of war directly to her. George's wounding at Fredericksburg (December 1862) precipitated Walt's departure to the Washington, D.C., area and ultimately to his nursing wounded soldiers. The discovery that George had been injured—the extent of his injury was unknown for several days—was rivaled in intensity of worry and exceeded in duration by George's capture and imprisonment from October 1864 through March 1865. Walt's letters to Louisa provide a record of the family's emotional trauma and uncertainty upon learning that George was wounded at Fredericksburg, but none of Louisa's letters during George's imprisonment survive, except upon notice that his release was imminent. In the immediate postwar period, demobilization produced mass layoffs at the United States Naval Yard, and Louisa within months expressed her unease about crime in nearby Brooklyn parks and streets. The family's departure in 1866 to a home that was adjacent to Prospect Park on Brooklyn's outskirts may have been in response to the threat of crime. The new house, however, was unpleasant for Louisa in part because she was away from friends and the bustle of the city. The brief experiment in life at the city's edge ended with Jeff's departure for St. Louis in 1867.
The earliest letters of this period—the handful to Walt in Boston and later in 1863 as Andrew's death approached—offer insight both into family life and the vibrancy of Louisa's interaction with Walt's social and intellectual circles. In April 1860, Jeff conveyed his mother's request that Walt send a copy of James Redpath's biography of John Brown, the abolitionist martyr.67 The Public Life of Captain John Brown (1860) had been issued recently by Thayer & Eldridge, the Boston publisher with which Walt was preparing his revised 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. In her early May 1860 letter, Louisa acknowledged receipt of the Brown biography and described two recent visits to her home, one by Fred Vaughan and Robert "Bob" Cooper, and one by Hector Tyndale. This letter has her only mention of Vaughan, Walt's likely former lover and inspiration for the "Live Oak, with Moss" / "Calamus" sequence of poems. Vaughan and his roommate Robert Cooper made an extended visit: "Fred and bob coopper was here last sunday staid till toward evening)."68 Tyndale's visit, which was separate from that of Vaughan and Cooper, marked Walt's and his family's continued connection to Ralph Waldo Emerson and his extended circles. Tyndale's mother Sara Thorne, a Philadelphia abolitionist, had accompanied Alcott and Thoreau when they visited Walt in 1855. During Tyndale's 1860 visit to Louisa he described his mother Sara Thorne's suffering during her recent illness. Louisa apparently made quite an impression on Tyndale, or so Walt reported three years later: "[Tyndale] has been to see me again—always talks about you."69 Two months before Tyndale's visit, Louisa had rented the ground floor in the Whitmans' Portland Avenue home to the Brown family, which prompted in her letter an aside about the tailor's "uncommon name."70 Louisa's and Hector's shared interest in the abolitionist by that name—Tyndale had retrieved Brown's body from Virginia for interment in New York—may have enlivened their extended conversation.71
George's wounding and imprisonment were severe trials, but the most significant moment of family transition during the war was Andrew's death, which concluded the extended saga of his illness and forced the family into a series of wracking choices on Louisa's daughter-in-law, Nancy, and Louisa's eldest son Jesse. The jostling between Jeff and his mother in their letters—each complained to Walt about the other—marks a household in dissension. Andrew's throat pain was so severe during his last months that even salted broth was unbearable, and he apparently survived mostly on rice pudding. Jeff and Louisa agreed about Nancy's extravagance: Louisa objected even to Nancy's expenses for food. On the other hand, Jeff accused his mother of scrimping unnecessarily on food for herself and sons Edward and Jesse. According to Louisa, Andrew's son Jimmy ate four eggs for breakfast when "other things not half so expensi[ve?] would be much more healthy for the child."72 According to Jeff, dinner for his mother, Jesse, and Edward consisted of "a quart of tomats and a few cucumbers."73 Walt like Jeff urged his mother to spend more freely on food: "I hope you will at least four or five times a week have a steak of beef or mutton, or something substantial for dinner."74 Louisa ignored Jeff's advice (and Walt's) about spending on food and instead criticized Jeff and his wife Mattie for spending so freely on themselves. In Louisa's view, they had the means to be more generous to their nephew: "they never gave Jim one cent worth when he went away not even a shirt when Jeff has 1[8?] mat said if they work and got them as they had done they could have them."75 Shortly after Andrew's death, the previous aid that the Whitman family had provided to Nancy and her children—including rent for September or October 186376—was replaced almost entirely by employment advice.
In the aftermath of Andrew's death, the Whitman family concentrated its energies instead on Louisa's oldest son Jesse, whose threatening behavior toward Jeff and Mattie's daughter Manahatta, then three years old, and toward Mattie herself prompted a permanent separation in the housing quarters. Louisa lived with sons Jesse and Edward in the basement, while Jeff, Mattie, and their two daughters lived on the upper floor. Jeff and Mattie genuinely feared that Jesse's mental instability could escalate to physical violence. Louisa minimized Jesse's outburst in her December 4–5 letter to Walt, wherein she described Andrew's death. Louisa failed to anticipate that Jeff in mid-December would send Walt a graphic description of the interfamilial conflict. One of the conceits about Louisa's relationship to Walt is that she placed absolute trust in him, but in her letter she spared (or denied) him the full truth about Jesse's outburst because she would not permit the episode to distract from the solemn dignity befitting her own effort to memorialize Andrew.77
Jeff's mid-December letter to Walt contrasts markedly with Louisa's from ten days earlier on the apparent violence of Jesse's threat.78 After Walt responded to Jeff's letter—and though Walt's letter is not extant he agreed with Jeff that Jesse should be institutionalized—Mattie was enlisted to submit her opinion to Walt. Louisa's standoffish phrasing in her December 25, 1863 letter—"i told mat you would have enoughf letter reading for to day in her letter it has been long time com[ing?] but has come at last"—may suggest that both Louisa's and Mattie's letters were enclosed in the same envelope but that Louisa was not permitted to read Mattie's.79 If Jeff intended that Mattie's letter would submit the dispute on what was to be done with Jesse to Walt's impartial judgment, Jeff was thwarted because Louisa had no intention of surrendering a second son so soon after Andrew's death—Louisa would not be crossed in the matter. Mattie explained that she was "a little annoyed that Jeff should have written you about Jess" and that before the December 4 incident only Louisa had been the object of Jesse's previous threats—he would "take up a chair to throw at her." She concluded that whether to institutionalize Jesse was ultimately her mother-in-law's choice: "I dont think you could persuade her to send him."80 To Mattie, Louisa's determination to keep Jesse in the household was, for the moment, the final word. Jeff and Louisa apparently settled their dispute, though no letter mentions any explicit agreement: perhaps Jeff accepted his mother's preference to keep Jesse, her eldest son, in the home but away from Jeff and his family's living quarters, and Louisa accepted Jeff's preference to have nothing more to do with Nancy and her children.
Walt had recommended institutionalizing Jesse and was responsible for doing so in December of the following year, but he in his known letters never advocated substantial aid to Nancy and her children. Perhaps Walt too acquiesced to the opinion of his brother Jeff, who had opposed extending aid to Nancy and her children before Andrew's death. Jeff's letters from August to October 1863 signal his growing conviction that the Whitmans could take on no more responsibility for Andrew's family. George, away at war, was a notable exception among the Whitman siblings: after he was notified of his brother Andrew's death George encouraged his mother to be generous toward Nancy from his military pay.81 Whether the Whitman family continued to provide occasional aid to Nancy aside from the handful of dollars that Walt forwarded during the next few years is uncertain, but Nancy and her children after May 1864 otherwise dropped entirely from Whitman family letters. George's letters have no mention of Nancy after his December 9, 1863 letter. Neither Nancy nor her children is mentioned once in Jeff's letters after December 1863, and she is not mentioned in Louisa's extant letters until summer 1867, a few months after Jeff departed for St. Louis.
What can be constructed from Jeff's, Walt's, and George's letters suggests that 1864 was for Louisa the most taxing year, emotionally and physically, of the war. In early March, the Browns claimed to have renewed the lease of the Portland Avenue home—which had been purchased by a new owner—in their own name and intended to increase the monthly cost of the basement sublet to Louisa from $5 to $8. Jeff discovered that the Browns had proposed the step to the landlord but had not signed a new lease, leading to a dispute that dragged on for at least a week or two during which the Whitmans were unsure whether they would be forced to move.82 The next week Jeff described his mother as "unwell for the last few days. She has a very steady and severe pain, she thinks a gathering or enlargement, in the right side of her chest. For a day or two she was almost helpless."83 He blamed his mother's illness on overexertion in housecleaning. Housing matters probably receded from concern over the next several months as George's participation in many significant battles of the war—North Anna in May, Cold Harbor in June, Battle of the Crater in July—must have taken precedence. His capture during—and imprisonment after—the Battle of Poplar Grove in September 1864 extended the Whitman family's worry. No correspondence from Louisa is extant until just after George's release in February the following year. The stress of George's letters from the front and his imprisonment may have led the Whitman family, collectively, to inure themselves from the poverty that Nancy and her children suffered, and the same stress may have contributed to the decision to institutionalize Jesse in December.
In early 1865 George was released from prison, and by mid-year the war had ended. Louisa in the late part of the year both sought to rescue daughter Hannah from her abusive husband Charles Heyde, an effort that failed, and became increasingly concerned about crime in her Brooklyn neighborhood. She remarked vividly on such concerns in her letters to Walt, and she acknowledged that her effort to husband George's military pay for his own use after the war had left her in dire financial condition. When George arrived home after his release from Confederate prison camp, Louisa conveyed to Walt George's fear that he might not survive: a doctor "did what he could for him he had no medicine blistered him and gave him mercury he was dilirious and lay in A stupor till the night the fever turned he says he felt A thrill run through him and thought he was dying."84 After his monthlong furlough in Brooklyn, George's new assignment must have been a relief: he served as a prison officer in Maryland. When the war came to a close and Lincoln was assassinated, Louisa vented her disgust with British newspapers: "the english papers is very sypathectic for the honourable Jefferson davis poor mr Lincoln s being murderd dont seem to be any thing to them compared with the American patriot as they call the great Jefferson davis)."85 During her September 1865 trip to Burlington, Vermont to assess the ongoing catastrophe of her daughter Hannah's marriage to Charles Heyde—a trip she had planned as a rescue86—Louisa became reconciled to their stormy relationship, or at least convinced herself that it would be folly to intervene in their marriage.
After six weeks, she returned from Burlington to the domestic routine of caring for growing granddaughters, where her anxieties about money began to merge with postwar financial and social upheaval. She recognized that her thriftiness with George's military pay during the war meant that her dependency on her sons had increased in the postwar period: "i dont have much money to spend now adays to think i was such A fool as to use all the money i had in the bank and save the other now i want it and wish i had saved my own."87 Criminal activity in public parks near the Navy Yard, presumably related to rising unemployment during postwar demobilization, also raised her level of anxiety. A sensational crime—a Spanish national from Cuba, who was said to have carried thousands of dollars in cash, was attacked and murdered by two men wielding razors and a dagger—produced a community-wide sensation, and a close neighbor on Portland Avenue had a watch stolen.88 The concern about crime in the near vicinity may have prompted the Whitmans' July 1866 move to a home on Prospect Park, then the outskirts of the city.
The new Pacific Street house, though more spacious, proved unpleasant for Louisa. She aired some of her complaints about housing discomforts and childcare frustrations in her letters to Walt, but she also discussed her reading, revealed some opinions of same-sex romantic partnerships, and explained her sense of poverty and dependency. Louisa was unhappy with the move away from Brooklyn's city center—the following spring she noted, "I have lived in the country so long"89—and the Pacific Street house was exposed to the wind and could not be warmed adequately. Jeff's close friend and a former Brooklyn Water Works engineer Joseph Phineas Davis, who in 1866 began serving as the chief engineer at the nearby Prospect Park, shared the house with the Whitmans. Davis was a sometimes exasperating housemate, but Louisa's remark on his romantic partner suggests that she saw little difference between male-female or same-sex attraction. Davis's frequent visitor elicited one remark: "he has a mr somebody here quite often to supper and stay all night)."90 But that was not a source of concern, or even interest: she was instead exasperated by Davis's habit of absconding with the New York Times, one of the newspapers in which she was following the "speakery in the house." That to her was a notable annoyance: "i generally see the sunday paper davis takes the times every day but he is so queer about it leaves it over to the office."91 Louisa's attitude toward Davis's "mr somebody" and same-sex romantic partners generally was one of casual ease. She did tease family members about their romantic partners, regardless of gender. Three years later, she gently teased Walt—"you must tell me when you write how many valentines you got"92—but she did not imply a gender designation for his Valentines. A year before she mentioned Davis's companion, she mocked George's secretiveness about his new partner: "he thinks he is very sly but murder will out."93 Davis's unnamed partner received the gender designation "mr" and Louisa Orr is one time called George's "gal,"94 but Louisa's term "somebody," even if not invoking gender neutrality deliberately, registered casual unconcern about the gender of a romantic or sexual partner.
Louisa was frustrated by childcare responsibilities but developed an enduring tenderness toward her granddaughter Manahatta "Hattie" and sometimes recognized humor in her own difficulties. Though Louisa had called Hattie "very obstropolous" (a dialect form of "obstreperous") when she was three, Louisa had grown close to her granddaughter over the next four years.95 Following the death of a recently hatched chick, Hattie "buried one" and questioned her grandmother: "she asked me if i thought it would go to heaven hattie is a very smart child." Louisa in the same letter expressed irritation that Jeff and his wife had been away to Philadelphia for an extended time. The household burdens—caring for two children under eight years and for her son Edward, cooking for them as well as for Davis and his cousin—fell entirely on Louisa: "martha has been gone to philadelphe most a week Jeff came home last night but mat dident come they were to come tuesday or wensday sure i dont think they will come such a game over me again she has no girl and the work has been very hard on me."96 On another occasion, when Mattie and daughter Hattie were away, Louisa referred wryly to the opportunity to write Walt as "A lull in the confusion."97
In early May 1867, the Pacific Street household was again "all in confusion" after Jeff departed to St. Louis, where he had begun his work as chief engineer, a position in which he would rise to national prominence. Jeff and Mattie, unsure whether Jeff's departure from Brooklyn would be permanent, decided initially against moving the entire family. In part because Davis joined Jeff in St. Louis, the remaining Whitmans were compelled to depart the house, which was apparently owned or managed by Prospect Park, Davis's employer. Mattie and daughters Hattie and Jessie Louisa planned to stay in Towanda, Pennsylvania, with family friend Gordon F. Mason from spring into the summer, so Louisa and Edward faced the urgent need to find a new home.98 When the Whitmans left, the new tenants included the brother-in-law of the Plymouth Church pastor Beecher, and the arriving Bullards purchased some of the Whitmans' household goods, including their chickens. Louisa's housing fears turned her thoughts to a small lot with a carpenter shop that George's business partner, a man known only as "Smith," had purchased the previous year, on Putnam Avenue.99 After a few weeks of near panic, Louisa and Edward settled into a boarding house on 1194 Atlantic Street. Walt, in a letter fragment that dates a few months after Louisa's departure from the Pacific Street house, speculated at this time that he could scrape together enough for George and his partner to build a small home for his mother on the Putnam Avenue lot, but Smith's plan to build there eventually quashed Louisa's best hope for a secure home.100
After Jeff's departure to St. Louis, Louisa endured an extended period of frustration with housing, but the respite from childcare responsibilities allowed her to engage more actively with Walt's literary career. She and Edward remained in the boarding house on 1194 Atlantic Street for about a year, and they then moved to another boarding house with a similar address, 1149 Atlantic Avenue. Though frustrated with boarding house life at both locations—her wish to have a small place of her own brought the still undeveloped Putnam Avenue lot often to mind—tepid post-war economic growth kept George's housebuilding business in the doldrums and delayed Louisa's hoped-for home over two years. It took until spring 1869 before George recovered his financial footing both by selling several houses and by coming into his own as a favored pipe inspector. Jeff and his friends and former Water Works engineers Moses Lane and Davis, now dispersed as consultants and newly hired chief engineers in eastern and midwestern cities, relied on the casting infrastructure in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to acquire their pipe—and on George as an on-site inspector at the manufacturers. When George began to recover financially in May 1869, he settled his mother and brother Edward in a home that he had built at 71 Portland Avenue opposite the State Arsenal (also known as the Armory).
In spring 1871 George married Louisa Orr Haslam, whom he had courted and may have intended to marry as early as 1866.101 With George having shifted his emphasis from housebuilding to pipe inspection, he moved to Camden, where he had better access to on-site inspection work at the foundries. George and his new wife soon began pressuring his mother to relocate to Camden. Though Louisa's health—especially arthritis—made daily life more difficult physically, she and Edward remained in Brooklyn through summer 1872, when she acquiesced finally to family pressure and moved to Camden. This period of her life is richly documented by her seventy-five extant letters, which treat a range of family matters: Mattie Whitman's declining health; the amputation of daughter Hannah's thumb; George's business matters; Louisa's close involvement with the lives of her neighbors, other relatives, and Walt's many friends; Jesse's death; and the trials of Andrew's widow Nancy and her children. The letters from this period provide ample evidence also of Louisa's intellectual vibrancy.
That she was semi-literate and could not read or understand Walt's poetry is a canard that her letters easily dispel: she read expansively in the news of her day, and thanks largely to Walt's forwarded periodicals she achieved a substantial degree of print culture sophistication. Newspapers that she read regularly or to which she subscribed include the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York Times, New York Tribune, New York Sunday Mercury, New York Sun, and Brooklyn Daily Times. She referred to Walt's forwarded copies of the Illustrated Chicago News, the The Graphic (London), New York Daily Graphic, Washington Morning Chronicle, and a Star and a Sun, probably from Washington and Baltimore respectively. She appreciated engravings in the Graphic, almost certainly one of two ambitious illustrations of dying soldiers during the Franco-Prussian war—Henry Woods's "The Last Message" or Godefroy Durand's "The Last Bivouac." The former depicts a setting with one soldier nursing his dying companion that could almost accompany "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night" or "The Wound-Dresser."102 Walt regularly sent Louisa almanacs, including the Old Franklin Almanack, no. 9 (1867) and a Catholic almanac, and she acquired the Tribune Almanac and Political Register (1867) on her own. In March 1870 she asked Walt to "send the week," probably the latest serial installment of an unnamed novel.103 Like Walt, Louisa was an enthusiastic reader of George Sand, and she thanked him for forwarding one of her novels in October 1871, and later the same month she thanked him for Justin McCarthy's Lady Judith (1871).104 She also praised Jean Bruce Washburn's Yo Semite: A Poem (1871).
Her daily reading of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is almost as important as family correspondence for dating her letters. She read avidly the popular news of her city, but she read against the grain of the newspaper's social and political commentary, most notably the political leanings that shaped the paper's coverage of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and later the election of Ulysses S. Grant. Aside from politics, she followed the newspaper sensations of her day, which included a visit to Brooklyn by Queen Victoria's son Prince Arthur, a Long Island railroad disaster in which one of the dead was named George Van Nostrand (not her grandson by the same name as Walt had feared), the murder of a builder named Dominicus S. Vorhees, and a train disaster known as the "Hudson River Horror." In the last incident, a passenger train collided with derailed freight cars that had been hauling some 500 barrels of kerosene: in the ensuing conflagration passengers were burned alive and flaming cars tumbled off a bridge into the water.105
Though Louisa read the Brooklyn Daily Eagle faithfully—perhaps a habit that she had acquired in the mid-1840s when Walt had served as its editor—she regarded its Reconstruction-era political coverage with disdain. She deplored and even belittled the Democrat-leaning paper's coverage of the president: "the old eagle how i dislike it yet i take it if i dident see any other paper i should think andy was perfection and all the rest was crushed general grant in the bargain)."106 During the run-up toward the impeachment of Johnson, Louisa read each day's news eagerly and was impressed by the speeches of Radical Republicans Thaddeus M. Stevens and Benjamin F. Butler: "the last speech of stephens that was read before the impeachment was good very indeed)"; "i never had any idea butler was so smart i suppose the others is smart but he seems to fetch them up so quick)."107 When the election approached, she mocked the Eagle's ludicrous claim that sensible Republicans in the state would support former New York Governor Horatio Seymour rather than war hero Grant: "i wish you could see the eagle it is worse than ever all the respectable radicals is in favor of seymore the eagle says they are nearly all copperheads around here."108
For local news she mostly followed the Eagle but sometimes picked up a copy of the New York Times or in lean periods took a penny paper like the Sun. She read both national and local news critically and recognized the casual misogyny so common in the popular press of her day. Shortly after Grant's election, the Times lauded the Government Printing Office and Treasury Department. These federal offices were dismissing female employees disproportionately—"the least efficient and most obnoxious, politically, of the employe[e]s"—among the clerks and other personnel in folding rooms and binderies.109 Louisa saw the dismissals differently, "i felt sorry to see so many females discharged."110 She was also unsympathetic to the stereotypically feminine enthusiasm for new fashions. Her description of the new spring hats and bonnets for 1869—the former with narrow brims that she despised, "i think the hats is awful"—was drawn not from the breathless spring fashion reports but from a satiric Eagle correspondent named Corry O'Lanus.111 Louisa rarely commented on articles more than a few days old, so her remarks on articles in periodicals, when they can be identified with a particular story, both illuminate her political and cultural leanings and help to date her letters.
Louisa presumably shared the race bias and demeaning attitudes toward African Americans that are sprinkled throughout Whitman family letters, including Walt's, but Louisa did not use offensive terms for African Americans in her own letters. Either or both of Walt's two commonly noted but conflicting attitudes—his toleration and even acceptance of slavery as an institution in some of his prose political commentary despite his sympathy toward the slave's humanity in his poetry—may have been shared by Louisa. Her one mention of an African American stereotype, which is employed in a Thomas Nast cartoon in Harper's Weekly, is ambiguous because her notice of it seems more characteristic of her pro-Republican political leanings than her racial attitudes. Louisa had a "hearty laughf " at the Nast cartoon's portrayal of Salman P. Chase, the presidential hopeful, as a physician offering a "Sickly Democrat" a medicinal draught that consists of a stereotyped black figure, a satiric comment on Chase's doomed effort to encourage the Democratic Party to accept African American suffrage.112 Like Walt, she may have "internalized typical white racial attitudes of his time, place, and class," or she may have shared the more progressive (for its era) attitude known as romantic racialism, which historian George Fredrickson has noted was common among antebellum antislavery and women's social reform circles.113 Louisa's remark on Nast's cartoon does not allow us to distinguish her views from Walt's, so she may well have shared the antislavery bent of social reformers alongside deeply seated racial prejudice that was characteristic of her generation. Into early adulthood in New York she had of course witnessed slavery firsthand.
One prejudice, Louisa's attitude toward Native Americans, is readily discernible from two letters: she shifted quickly from romantic idealization of disappearing Native Americans (also Walt's attitude)114 toward her culture's shared horror after an incident known as the Modoc Massacre. From one brief remark on Jean Washburn's Yo-Semite: A Poem (1871)—"the old indian tradition i think is so beautifu[l?] ¶ the fire in the woods on the prairi[e?] is awful[l?] to rea[d?]"—we may reasonably conclude that she shared her culture's romanticization of a people that she assumed had been relegated to a superseded past.115 But when in early 1873 the Modoc tribe under its leader Kientpoos (known by the English name "Captain Jack") violently resisted a peace negotiation party that aimed to resettle the Modoc people in a reservation, the form that resistance took was beyond Louisa's imagining: "we saw the news of the modoc massacre last sunday but thought maybee it wasent true till we got the herald."116 The Herald's truth, that Modoc warriors assassinated unarmed peace negotiators without cause, was a racist reduction: it ignored a long history of harassment against the Modoc people by Western settlers; internecine conflict among Modoc factions; the peace negotiators' plan to relocate the Modocs against their will in a reservation dominated by the Klamath people, their historical enemy; the military threat that backed up the peace negotiators; and the reasonable belief that for the federal peace commission the only satisfactory outcome to negotiation was Modoc removal, which would be achieved with armed force if the peace commission failed. Louisa's racial prejudice against Native American people was similar to Walt's, familiar to her times, and relatively unambiguous in these two instances.
We can from these two passages in Louisa's letters assume that her attitudes toward Native Americans were similar to Walt's, but we should perhaps be more cautious in any statements about her attitudes toward race or ethnicity. Her attitudes may have shifted over time, evolved in response to particular incidents, or blended into fears and desires for which she had limited means of expression within her own cultural context. Louisa's ethnic prejudice toward the Irish is the only attitude voiced with repeated virulence in her letters, and one root of that prejudice was Louisa's relationship to her daughter-in-law Nancy, who was of Irish descent (see Andrew Jackson and Nancy Whitman and children below). For Native Americans generally, the accord between Louisa's letters and Walt's prose and letters allows us to surmise that she switched easily between romantic idealization and racially inflected hatred, but our suppositions are limited to the extant letters. Walt's attitudes about African Americans are more complex when we contrast his prose and poetry, and Louisa's attitudes may in part be reflected in Walt's "The Sleepers," a likely biographical passage about Louisa's encounter with a "red squaw" that has been identified as "the most extended treatment of desire between women and also between races in all of Leaves of Grass."117 Walt's poem is thin evidence on which to reconstruct Louisa's desires as a young woman—and we should acknowledge both that racial prejudice has been no barrier to sexual desire and that verbal expressions of such desire in her era trespassed on culturally forbidden terrain—but "The Sleepers" offers sufficient reason for caution also when describing Louisa's attitudes toward Native Americans.
Louisa, like readers today, was capable of recognizing possibilities in Walt's poetic voices, and the wealth of her comments on his poetry and on reviews of his work show that her judgment could be incisive. She weighed the merits of William D. O'Connor's "The Good Gray Poet" (1866) against John Burroughs' Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867): "Walt doo you know i like his writings the good gray poet better than i doo borroug[hs?] book Oconers shows the spirit its wrote in i should form an idea of the man if i had never seen him by reading his writing."118 Roper credits the soundness of her judgment: O'Connor's essay "was a dense, allusion-studded polemic of great power and stylistic brilliance, nigh unto an American rhetorical tour de force."119 But she was no undiscriminating fan of O'Connor: his "Ballad of Sir Ball" she dismissed—"it is signed w i hope nobody will think you wrote it walt)"—and she thought that O'Connor failed to write to his full ability: "i dont see into his writing such peices as he writes i should think him capable of writing something more substancial a man that can converse as he can."120 Walt's essays and poetry she read closely and even affectionately: "well walter i have the whis[p?]er[s?] of heavenly death it lays here on the table by my side i have read it over many times […] i felt as if i should preserve it for i liked it it was so solemn)."121 She read the original appearances of Walt's articles in the Church brothers' Galaxy, which were revised for Democratic Vistas, and if her extant letters are representative, she received from Walt and read copies of most known periodical appearances of his poetry. Louisa also recognized Anne Gilchrist's "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman" as an astute analysis of his work: "i set right down and read it that Lady seems to understand your writing better than ever any one did before as if she could see right through you she must be a highly educated woman."122
Louisa's comments and information on her neighbors and on family and friends during this era are extensive. In the spring of 1868, Nancy McClure's sister-in-law contacted Louisa about an effort to place Andrew's children in an orphan asylum. Louisa sought Walt's assistance to coordinate the effort, but what actions he took are unknown, and the effort came to naught.123 Late 1868, when Mattie returned to Brooklyn for throat surgery—Jeff and children arrived after several weeks—opened a period of significant strain for Louisa. From just before Mattie's arrival through the start of 1869 Louisa witnessed an almost unimaginable concentration of illness and death among relatives and neighbors. Nancy, pregnant with twins, allowed her youngest son Andrew, Jr. (b. April 1864), to fend for himself on Brooklyn streets, where he in September 1868 was struck by a brewery wagon and killed.124 In November and December, at the time of Mattie's throat surgery, an infection on daughter Hannah's hand led Dr. Samuel Thayer to lance her wrist and later to amputate her thumb.125 At 1149 Atlantic Avenue (to which Louisa had moved in September), Louisa cultivated the friendship and shared the sufferings of neighbors Mary Mann and Margret Steers. The former in November 1868 lost her four-year-old son Charley to the croup, and the latter, a baker, lost her husband in early 1869 just weeks after her arrival at the house in which Louisa boarded.126 A year later in March 1870, Jesse, Louisa's "first born," died and was buried in a pauper's grave at Brooklyn's Flatbush Insane Asylum.127
Louisa's emotional fortitude was strained and almost broken by her dependence on George for housing and financial assistance in late 1868, but the rapid turn of his fortunes in early 1869 provided temporary respite and, for two brief years, a home of her own. After banks clamped down on house lending in late 1868—which led to stagnation in house purchases into early 1869—George's business outlook was bleak until Louisa helped to coordinate a series of loans from Jeff and Walt, which kept George's business financially solvent into the summer.128 When the financial freeze eased in the spring, George designated a home for his mother at 71 Portland Avenue and with the sale of homes began to repay rapidly the loans to Jeff and Walt.129 Even after Louisa had settled into the house that George had provided, Walt's lifeline of two or three dollars with each letter, sometimes five or ten, and an occasional money order for larger sums remained the means by which she held off the indignity of asking George for money. Jeff and Mattie could not be relied on for financial relief—probably because Mattie's worsening health absorbed their attention—but Jeff's substantial income meant that their occasional gifts provided welcome respite from pinching need. By spring 1871 George had relocated to Camden, New Jersey, and had married his longtime somebody Louisa "Loo" Orr.130 They began almost immediately to pressure Louisa to depart Brooklyn and join them: "george and loo and Jeff insists on my breaking up houskeeping they dident only insist but almost commanded me." Despite her own declining health, she suffered especially from joint pain or arthritis, Louisa resolved to stay in Brooklyn through another winter, out of loyalty to her disabled son Edward: "none of them want edd."131
Having faced down the pressure to depart Brooklyn the previous year, Louisa acquiesced at the end of August 1872 and moved to Camden. Walt's offer to pay Edward's board removed the last obstacle, and Louisa remained in Camden until her death in May 1873. The promise of a private room and tender care soon proved an illusion: George and Louisa Orr were distracted by other matters, and family sorrows multiplied rather than abated. George's regular position as a Brooklyn pipe inspector evaporated in late 1872, and in early 1873 he scrambled to claim a new short-term inspecting contract for the city. After obtaining inspection work from Jeff's former Water Works coworkers Mason and Davis a few months later, George was determined to build a new larger house. His wife Louisa Orr had her own friends, shopping trips, and a briefly suspected pregnancy to occupy her. In late 1872, Louisa's grandson, Nancy's son Georgy, died, and more devastating news followed in early 1873. Walt suffered a debilitating paralytic stroke in January, and Mattie Whitman died less than a month later. Though Louisa again indulged—with Walt's prompting—the hope that she and Edward could join him in Washington and share a small home, spring 1873 brought diminished physical strength, diminished dignity in George's household, and, after a stroke-like episode in early May, diminished mental acuity. Her ability to concentrate faltered, and an accompanying palsy made reading and then writing impossible: all that remained was to bid farewell to her beloved children.
The letters that fall between December 1872 to May 1873 received the least comprehensive effort at dating by Whitman's executors, but the extraordinary number of extant letters between mother and son—twenty-seven from Louisa, thirty-five from Walt—bespeak an almost feverish devotion in their time of shared sorrow. In a remarkable sequence after Walt's January 23 stroke, twenty-five of his next twenty-eight extant letters, through April 6, are addressed to his mother. The nine newly dated letters from her in this period provide a sympathetic but disturbing portrait of her last months. With Walt's paralytic stroke, Mattie's death, the letters from Jeff's grieving daughter Manahatta, George and Louisa Orr's bizarre hope to profit handsomely by taking in Jeff's daughters, Louisa Orr's suspected pregnancy, and George's dedication to his new house, the three months that preceded Louisa Whitman's early May 1873 stroke are almost gothic in intensity and are a heartbreaking coda to her life.
The letters from this period deserve a more sympathetic reading because Miller in the Correspondence placed a withering emphasis on her complaints. According to his annotations, Louisa was "annoyed by George's economizing and, more important, loath to accept a (rightful) secondary position in her daughter-in-law's household" and "complained to Helen Price"; Louisa "complained of her loneliness"; she "complained of her lot"; she "complained" of George's stinginess; she "bitterly bewailed Louisa [Orr]'s economy"; and she also "complained of dyspepsia."132 But readers of Louisa's letters should keep Ceniza's guidance in mind: she "had taken care of grown children, sick children, dying children, and grandchildren for years. She was old. She needed her own place in which to die."133
Until early 1873 Louisa continued to hold onto old habits from her Brooklyn years. In December 1872, she prepared a gift box for daughter Hannah and informed Walt that George's plan to build a new house in Camden had to be postponed.134 In mid-January Louisa again prepared a box for Hannah, but the tone of her letters changed to devoted concern when she learned of Walt's stroke. She insisted that Walt convey the truth about his health: "write just as you are walter ¶ dont say you are better than you are."135 The next blow, Mattie's death on February 19, turned Louisa's thoughts to the desire to provide comfort to her granddaughters: "i wish i had a home to take them for a while." Thoughts of a home reminded her of Walt's condition as well: "i hope dear walt you will have a home of your own some day if ever we want a home it is when we are sick."136
Her letters turned often to houses also because George had purchased a lot on which he planned to build, and Louisa's house thoughts were entwined with concern for Walt and for her granddaughters. Though George had suffered brief periods of genuine financial worry in his housebuilding business, he was extraordinarily enterprising and successful: he weathered the cutbacks in Brooklyn inspecting work in 1871 and 1872, found a diverse array of new inspection opportunities from former Water Works engineers, and transitioned smoothly out of housebuilding as his primary occupation.137 But his devotion to work raised in his mother Louisa immense frustration after Mattie's death. The new-house talk that dominated Camden conversation—which had occupied George and Louisa Orr before Walt's stroke and became more urgent after Mattie's death—suggested to them another possibility for extra income. They forced Louisa to write a letter to Jeff with an offer to take in his daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa: "lou and george wished me to write to jeff that they would take them i dident want to write it but they insisted upon it i knew walt it wouldent doo of course but i wrote what they wished) of course they expected jeff to pay a good board george thought lou could manage them but walter dear it would never do."138 Louisa's grief over Mattie's death was deep and returned again to mind with each letter from her granddaughter Manahatta. In one letter the bereft twelve-year old enclosed "a rose that was on poor mammas coffin," and in another she wrote that "the last few weeks seemed like a dream."139 Louisa, however, confined her grief for Mattie to her letters to Walt and to Jeff's family because life in Camden returned quickly to the usual track. George and Louisa Orr had shopping trips and the new house to plan, and Louisa, who was haunted by Mattie's photograph, had no one to share her grief: "i seldom speak of her."140
Louisa's complaints about Louisa Orr became more strident after her daughter-in-law stayed away in Philadelphia for almost a week, and Walt's hope that he could purchase a home encouraged Louisa to believe that that she might be able to escape Camden. During her daughter-in-law's absence Louisa struggled to cook for herself but managed with Edward's assistance: "i had a rather hard time of it i was so very lame at times i co[u?]ldent shut my hand my finger were so swoln but we got along."141 When Louisa Orr returned in late March, her suspected pregnancy forced Louisa out of the room that had been reserved for her, and she resumed the tasks of cooking dinner, baking pies, and washing dishes.142 George's new house began to take shape in early April, so Louisa described the layout and the expenditures in detail and also proposed a modest house that she and Walt could share. That a house would engage her mind, even as her body was failing, is understandable. Over two decades her adult life had been shaped by the vagaries of the speculative housebuilding business. Walt had encouraged the fantasy in February—"if you & I had a house here"—and he returned to the thought in late March, "I shall surely get here or buy or build a little place here, rooms enough to live in for you & Ed and me."143 The modest dwelling that Louisa imagined—two rooms above, two below, and a "shed kitchen"—would if shared with both Walt and Edward have had little room to spare, which prompted her to add a thought: "we couldent have many visitors to stay all night."144
Miller quoted that line and designated the last phrase "especially interesting."145 On what he bases that characterization is not clear, but her words could hardly signal an obsessive desire to keep Walt to herself, a reasonable reading of Miller's phrase that Ceniza has rejected.146 Louisa recognized the limits of the house that she was imagining: it would be too small for "many" overnight guests. In an almost exactly contemporary letter—of uncertain date but within two weeks of her description of the possible house—she expressed her appreciation for the two devoted companions who were nursing Walt after his paralytic stroke: "give my love to mrs oconor and remember me to peter doyl."147 To designate her house fantasy as an expression of possessiveness toward her son, the delusion of a deteriorating mind, or perhaps as another sign of what Miller elsewhere called her "egocentric indifference" is unfair: she was justifiably frustrated with her living conditions.148 The private room and relief from household drudgery that the move to Camden had promised were the fantasies that proved illusory.
On May 5 or 6, 1873, Louisa sent a letter that Walt acknowledged as the "short letter," and the deterioration in her written hand suggests that she had suffered a serious episode, probably a stroke, which she described as "a trembling in my whole system." The next day, she instructed Walt, "dont send any more papers as i cant read my head gets confused."149 And then for at least a week her letters to Walt stopped. On May 11, Walt wrote, "I shall be anxious to hear—write a line or two." On May 13, he almost begged, "try to write a line soon after you get this."150 When Louisa's next letter finally arrived—it had been written on May 13 or 14—she described to Walt another debilitating episode: "my very brain has seemed to be affected." And she allowed herself to share the thinly concealed truth: "eddy is very good boy lately he says he hopes i wont die."151 This letter may date a day before or after another letter, in which she described "trembling spels its all my nerves" and was unambiguous about her limited expectations for her own future: "you must come on the 1 of the month."152
In these last letters, all after May 5, she adopted new forms to address her walter dear: "darling walt," "dear blessed son," "dear beloved son," and, twice, "dear beloved walter." In her final letter, which may be a deathbed note that was never sent, she wrote that she has "lived beyond all comfort in this world."153 Shortly after her death, family friend Helen Price arrived in Camden, where she found the poet "bent over his cane, both hands clasped upon it, and from time to time he would lift it and bring it down with a heavy thud on the floor." Louisa Orr told Helen that Walt had "sat there all through the previous night."154 Louisa's obituary in the Camden Democrat, written by walter dear, memorialized her as the "beloved mother of Walt Whitman."155
Miller drew extensively from Louisa's letters for factual detail in the annotation for the Correspondence, and subsequent editors of family correspondence—Jerome M. Loving, Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (1975); Randall D. Waldron, Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (1977); and Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1984)—have also used her letters to document family lives. Allen's Solitary Singer, still the most assiduously documented biography, and Roper's Now the Drum of War (2009), a family biography devoted mostly to the war years, also rely heavily on Louisa's letters. The introductions to Loving's Civil War Letters and to Berthold and Price's Dear Brother Walt are accessible on the Whitman Archive, and the former should be consulted first for information about George and the latter for Jeff and family. Because Loving also provides short portraits of Walt's other siblings and their families, it is unnecessary here to again review them as independent lives. This section instead emphasizes interdependence among family members and selected details from Louisa's newly dated letters that correct, expand, or question previous conclusions.
Loving's introduction to the Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman, which supplements Katherine Molinoff's Some Notes on Whitman's Family (1941), provides a systematic review of what was then known about Andrew, Nancy, and her children. And Martin G. Murray's "Bunkum Did Go Sogering" later established that Andrew did serve during the Civil War.156 Whitman biographers have noted Andrew's alcoholism, but many seem to share the Whitman family's opinion that his wife Nancy, who engaged in prostitution, brought the evils that she suffered upon herself. That is a fair reading of Louisa's opinion, but her letters provide many clues that the Whitman family's unwillingness to support Nancy or her children may have been associated with numerous factors: sympathy for alcoholism among men that was not extended to women, the Whitman family's own financial strain during the war, and anti-Irish prejudice. Whitman biographers may have concluded too readily from Jeff's and Mattie's letters that Nancy deserved the suffering that she endured. Louisa's concern about Nancy was greater than Walt's or Jeff's, but her sympathy too was limited. A skeptical reading of the extant letters yields a more damning view of the Whitman family's abandonment of Nancy and her children after Andrew's death, but Louisa's late letters also show that the Whitman family did resume contact with Nancy and that George and his wife Louisa Orr after their marriage in 1871 sought out Nancy and attempted to rescue two of their surviving nephews.
The Whitman family disapproved strenuously of Nancy's drinking but accepted Andrew's, and Louisa gave him money that she knew would be spent on extended drinking binges—only self-willed denial prevented her recognizing the latter. Louisa in early 1863 drew on George's military pay to help Andrew take a doctor-recommended vacation to improve his health, and in late August, after recovering from an extended bout with pleurisy, Andrew was inclined to again have time away. He twice received money from Louisa, $10 and $30, which he promptly spent on two drinking sprees.157 In a late August or early September letter, Andrew's wife Nancy was blamed both for causing him to drink and rather implausibly for not managing the money that he was wasting. The direct aid that Louisa offered Nancy was meager: "Andrew had gone and left her without any money i gave her one dollar and one of my gowns and a quilt petticoat" and "some paper and envelopes and told her to write to him he had better come home."158 In Louisa's view Andrew's turn to alcohol was a consequence of Nancy's being a poor household manager.159 Andrew continued to collect his pay at the Navy Yard at least into late summer 1863,160 but a reader may well wonder, how could Nancy support herself or her children with the money that Andrew was spending on drink? On this matter Louisa's letters are silent.
A specific reason that the Whitman family over the year 1863 became increasingly willing to abandon Nancy, pregnant with two young children, after Andrew's death cannot be associated with a single aspect of her personal character, but Jeff agreed with Louisa's strong words, that Nancy was "dirty," "lazy," "ugly," a gossip, and out on the streets.161 In late fall 1863, when Andrew's approaching death could no longer be denied, Jeff became adamant that Nancy must take financial responsibility for herself. Jeff rejected assisting Nancy or her children because in his eyes the cause for their poverty was her laziness.162 Jeff's wife Mattie, a skilled seamstress, supplemented his income from the Water Works with piece labor. After the Whitmans began assuming responsibility for Andrew's food and medical care, they expected Nancy to maintain herself and her children with sewing.
After Andrew's early December death, Mattie visited Nancy and realized that "a crust of bread" was her only food. Mattie then sent her sister-in-law a chicken and "a large basket of Provitions." Jeff visited Nancy later that day and apparently intended, at his wife's urging, to offer assistance; however, Jeff discovered that Andrew's friends and co-workers from the Navy Yard had auctioned Andrew's carpentry tools and would use the proceeds to purchase Nancy a sewing machine. Jeff decided then that the charity he had planned to offer was no longer necessary, and Mattie's remark on Nancy's future welfare seems to reflect a consensus that she and Jeff had reached: "it seems as if the Lord always provides for the Widow and I feel confident that He will provide for her."163 Jeff's last mention of Nancy in his extant letters is from late-December: "Nancy is abt the same as ever—she seems to have no idea of getting along—she says she would work if she had it—but no idea of getting it. Mat has been trying to get her some and I think will succeed in a few days."164
Jeff and Louisa accused Nancy of failures in housekeeping, personal hygiene, and childcare, and they associated her personal failings with her ethnic identity as an Irish woman and, ultimately, with sexual license and prostitution. Whitman biographer Allen repeated Louisa's adjectives "dirty, ugly, and lazy" and referred to Nancy's "extravagance" and "misconduct," and subsequent biographers have accepted Allen's assessment.165 But even if Nancy was a poor housekeeper in Louisa's and Mattie's eyes, the combination of Andrew's drinking, the loss of his income for her household after his illness took hold, and pregnancy rendered her and her sons Jimmy and George financially vulnerable.166 Jeff's and Louisa's harsh opinion of Nancy was entwined with their prejudice against Irish immigrants. During the New York draft riots Jeff gave full vent to his hatred:
I hear that [the Michigan Regiments] made fearful havoc with the irish ranks. Twas better so—they did not have that 'citizen feeling' that our militia would have had. The only feeling I have is that I fear that they did not kill enough of 'em Walt. I'm perfectly rabid on an Irishman I hate them worse than I thought I could hate anything.167
Louisa's ethnic prejudice was not so visceral. Nonetheless, when she sought to remove Nancy's children from her household in spring 1868, she took a moment in one letter to explain to Walt, with a deliberateness that suggests some surprise, that Nancy's brothers were "respectable men."168 In a similar moment of casual prejudice a few years later, Louisa mused that a benefit of the Franco-Prussian War could be to inspire Irish immigrant ("Fenians") to depart the country.169 The term properly refers to the Fenian Brotherhood, an organization that promoted Irish independence, but Louisa used it as a slur against working-class Irish immigrants. Louisa's apparent acquiescence to Jeff and Mattie's preference to abandon Nancy and her children to their fate in December 1863 was not final. Walt's letters provide hints of occasional contact during next two years, and Louisa reconnected with Nancy after Jeff's departure for St. Louis. But it seems most likely that Louisa after Andrew's death devoted her emotional energies to resisting Jeff's desire to institutionalize Jesse. Louisa suffered overwhelming physical and emotional strains during the war's later years: caring for granddaughters, George's military service, caring for Edward, heading off Jesse's potential violence, and sympathizing with Walt's heartbreaking reports from Washington, D.C., hospitals—all from a cramped basement. And these strains may well have left her with no emotional reserve to challenge the decision by Jeff and Mattie—who struggled with many of the same burdens—to discontinue the aid that the Whitman family had provided formerly to Nancy and her children.
Nothing is known of Nancy's life between January 1864 and early April of the same year, when she gave birth to a son, as Louisa reported to Walt in a non-extant letter. When Walt acknowledged the birth of Andrew, Jr., it may be telling that he attributed the child's expected hardships to the general times rather than to a lack of aid from the Whitman family: "So Nance has had another child, poor little one, there don't seem to be much show for it, poor little young one, these times."170 Jeff's December 1863 note on Nancy's job prospects and Walt's April acknowledgment of the birth of Andrew, Jr., are the only substantive mentions of her or her family, and until well after the war only a handful of Walt's letters—but not Jeff's, George's, or Louisa's—have spare hints about Andrew's surviving family. Walt mentioned Nancy three times after the birth of Andrew, Jr., through the year 1867: once to acknowledge a letter from his mother that is "sad enough about Nancy, & the young ones—is the little baby still hearty, I believe you wrote a few weeks after it was born that it was quite a fine child"; once to send a dollar in February 1865; and once to send two more dollars to give to Nancy or spend on her behalf in December 1866.171 The comparative silence on Nancy's life in Whitman family letters may suggest that she resorted to prostitution. She may also have scraped together a living from other forms of labor, relied on her own siblings for support, or found other means of support from a partner or charity. If she did turn to prostitution in a brutal late-war economy, it was an understandable choice. Even were her difficulties not compounded by drinking, her other known means to support herself and her children—sewing, the McClure or the Whitman family's generosity, other assistance or work, and her children's begging—may well have left her with insufficient resources to obtain basic necessities to sustain life, such as housing, clothing, and food.
After Louisa settled in Atlantic Street in July 1867, two factors—the departure of Jeff and Mattie to St. Louis and Louisa's return to closer proximity to the city center—prompted her to seek out Nancy and her children. Even if Louisa had maintained occasional contact with Nancy, the absence of any mention of her or Andrew's sons in thirty letters from 1865 through July 1867 probably suggests that they were no longer regarded as a Whitman family concern. Nancy and her children reappear in Louisa's August 1867 letter, and Louisa's description suggests some period of lost contact before Louisa with Edward's assistance had sought them out: "Edd went down and found where nancy lived yesterday she moved in the same st they are all fat edd says and dirty but grow any how he said the house looked better than formerly i was glad to hear from them i ha[ve?] thought about them often this hot weather."172
Louisa's continued concern for Andrew's family and the renewed contact in summer 1867 may have set in motion the next significant known episode, when in spring 1868 Louisa joined an effort—at least with moral support—by Nancy's brother Edward and his wife Janey McClure to have Nancy's children removed from her care and placed in an orphan asylum. The spur for this renewed interest was that Nancy had given birth recently to twins, one of whom died. On the basis of the two spring 1868 letters from Louisa to Walt, Loving summarized the inconclusive episode. Whether or how Walt responded after Louisa urged him to write a letter is not known. Loving remarked, "Whatever became of Nancy after this time is uncertain."173 However, Louisa's letters shed additional light: in October 1871, little George ("Georgy") came to Louisa's door. At her daughter-in-law Louisa Orr's request, Louisa sent her grandson away with a note requesting information about his brother Jimmy's birthday. A few days later, a "strange boy" arrived with a letter and an offer from Nancy, that Louisa could "take george if i wanted too." Louisa declined because she considered Georgy "a very bad boy."174 Nancy's willingness finally to surrender her two elder sons to the Whitman family—three years after the deaths of her new-born twin infant and Andrew, Jr.—probably signaled a decline into desperation. Only one letter from Louisa between October 1871 and December 1872 survives, but in that August 1872 letter, written just as she prepared to depart for Camden, she revealed that Louisa Orr and George had taken in Nancy's eldest son Jimmy—but not Georgy—in the interim since October 1871. Under their care, Jimmy's "little pinched face is quite fatted up and he seems pleas[ed?] to be fixed up"; Louisa began to hope that young George too could be rescued: "if we could only get Georgee the[n?] in would be good)."175 Whether Jimmy remained still in the care of Louisa Orr and George when Louisa arrived in Camden is not known, and what is known about his later life is confined to the handful of traces that Loving notes, but his brother Georgy presumably remained in Brooklyn. Only one more trace of him appears in the Whitman family correspondence, in Jeff's daughter Manahatta's letter to her grandmother in October of the same year: "Mama told me how little Georgie got killed it was to bad."176
Louisa's elder daughter Mary and her husband Ansel Van Nostrand, whom she married in 1840, lived on the far end of Long Island opposite Brooklyn, in the fishing village of Greenport. They had five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." Molinoff described Mary and her family briefly in Some Notes on Whitman's Family, and Gohdes and Silver in Faint Clews & Indirections printed two of Mary's letters and a short family sketch. Loving's introduction to George Washington Whitman's Civil War Letters supersedes both.177 However, three episodes in their lives that Louisa reported to Walt—the death of Ansel's mother Fanny Van Nostrand, his severe bout with alcohol withdrawal, and the marriage of daughter Minnie—can offer a corrected and somewhat rounder portrait of the family.
Ansel's mother, called "Aunt Fanny," fell seriously ill in February 1868.178 After Fanny's death, Mary visited Louisa, and her talk was of the financial possibilities that Fanny's estate opened for her family: "the means they have whether they have the heart or not to use the means they talk of selling their place and buying one up town further and one more stilish."179 Mary's husband Ansel was an alcoholic, but Fanny's estate was apparently substantial enough that Louisa's daughter escaped significant financial hardship and was able even to indulge her youngest daughter Minnie. Several months after his mother's death, Ansel suffered severely—"come near dying" from "deliru trem[es?]," that is, withdrawal-induced delirium tremens—during a fishing trip near the coast of Virginia after his son-in-law John (Mary's daughter Louisa's husband) had thrown his liquor overboard.180 This incident or similar behavior led to Ansel's demotion from a leadership position that he had held formerly in a fraternal order.181 Two years later, in September 1871, Mary, her two daughters Louisa and Minnie, and Ansel spent several days visiting Louisa in Brooklyn—they came to shop in preparation for Minnie's approaching marriage to Leander Jay Young.182 Perhaps Ansel stopped drinking after the summer 1869 incident, but the cluster of letters that date before Minnie's marriage in fall 1871 show that Louisa's irritation with Mary was for the family's use of her Brooklyn home as a home base for shopping rather than a separation from Ansel: he accompanied his wife and two daughters to Brooklyn.183 After the marriage in October, the newlyweds Minnie and Leander again visited Louisa on their way to New York's St. Nicholas Hotel, which was then regarded as one of the city's most ostentatious, a place for the "flashily-dressed, loud-voiced, and self-asserting."184 Louisa's annoyance with the Van Nostrands may derive from some jealousy toward their financial ease, which in her view they achieved almost effortlessly after Aunt Fanny's death. Nonetheless, Louisa maintained an affection for her daughter Mary and when frustrated by living with Louisa Orr wished that she could go to Greenport. The lasting impression from Louisa's letters is that Mary devoted herself to her own growing brood and that her children were dutiful toward but not exceedingly close to Louisa.
While adding little to what is already known about Hannah's life, Louisa's letters from her late 1865 visit to Vermont add vivid details about Burlington and her daughter's relationship with Charles L. Heyde. Molinoff's Some Notes on Whitman's Family (1941), which reprints Hannah's obituary, provides many details about Hannah as an elderly woman from the memory of her Burlington acquaintances, and the basic outline of her life and marriage to landscape painter Heyde is provided in Loving's introduction to the Civil War Letters. Some details are added by reviewing the selection of Hannah's letters in Gohdes and Silver's Faint Clews & Indirections.185 Louisa's letters also offer additional context for what is known about the Whitman family's relationship with Heyde and complicate an assertion about Louisa's gift packages, which Ceniza has compared to Walt's poetry.
Louisa's September 1865 letters contrast her own life in Brooklyn and life in Burlington, on the shore of Lake Champlain, but the respite in those letters from the usual details about Heyde's mistreatment of her daughter Hannah is brief. Even during the first week of Louisa's visit to Vermont the household tensions boiled over: "there was quite a blow out of coarse i did not participate in the scrap."186 However, two weeks later Louisa urged Walt to consider a summer home in Vermont: she recounted the low prices for housing and foodstuffs, the wonders of the Pioneers' Shops, and the glory of the R. W. Sherman steamboat.187 After Louisa returned to Brooklyn, Hannah's health troubles and her son-in-law's offensive letters came to be tolerated as an ongoing irritant. Upon receipt of a letter from Hannah's husband in spring 1868, Louisa remarked on the artist's odd choice of writing paper and cut him down to size, "three sheets of foolscap paper and a fool wrote on them."188 Through early 1873 Louisa continued to channel some of the funds from Walt and Jeff to comfort Hannah with elaborate care packages: yards of cloth, preserved fruits, candy, and other treats. Ceniza's claim that Louisa's gift packages for Hannah have an affinity to Walt's poetry—"Whitman's poems were to him what Louisa's gift packages were to her"—is accurate as an overall assessment.189 However, the pervasiveness of gift packages to Hannah renders the mention of such packets unreliable as guides to letter dates. Nonetheless, the letters of Charles and Hannah may be the most promising area for new discoveries in—and corrections or revisions to—Louisa's letters and Walt's expanded family biography.
The lives of Jeff and his wife Mattie have been fully documented in the editions of their complete letters. In both Price and Berthold's Dear Brother Walt and in Waldron's Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman, the introductions, transcription of their letters, and annotations provide extensive records of their lives. Because both of those editions draw from Louisa's letters for their annotations, this edition offers few factual additions aside from somewhat more reliable dating and details on their visits to Brooklyn (for which see the relevant letters cited by Price and Berthold and Waldron). However, Louisa's letters do enrich our understanding of the relationship between George, Jeff, and a Brooklyn Water Works engineer Moses Lane. Furthermore, Louisa's letters shed additional light on the Whitmans' relationship to the Brown family and on how Jeff's position at the Water Works was instrumental to his brother George's eventual ability to transition from housebuilding to full-time work as a pipe inspector at foundry sites in New Jersey.
The importance of maintaining social networks may have been a lesson to which the Whitman sons looked to their mother for guidance. The Whitmans' relationship with John Brown and family, with whom they shared the Portland Avenue home, has on the basis of Jeff's letters appeared so toxic that one would hardly suspect that Louisa maintained a friendship with and called on them. Louisa was frustrated after several years in the same house: "I wish they were all gone."190 But three years after moving out of Portland Avenue and less than two years after Jeff's family departed for Missouri, Louisa called on Mrs. Brown, who "was very glad indeed to see me got a nice dinner and made me stay i beleive its the first meal i have eaten away from home since i come from Burlington if Jeff and matt knew i had been to see mrs Brown they would cross me off their books."191 Louisa was returning a call that Mr. Brown had made in February 1868.192 For Jeff and Mattie—though of course the letters are incomplete—it appears that the break with Nancy and her children and with the Browns were final. For Louisa, difficulties and breaks in familial and personal relationships could always be mended, and she had a long memory. Perhaps her reason for maintaining a connection with the Browns dates from just after Andrew's death. She had written to Walt then: "one thing more i must say mrs brown could not be kinder than she is i shall always respect her for her great kindness in our affliction."193
Far more influential for George's future success was Jeff's ability to connect him not to the family of a local Brooklyn tailor like Brown but to link him to Lane and other Water Works engineers, a process that Jeff initiated almost immediately at war's end. Though George did not take up Lane's September 1865 offer for a position at the Water Works, he eventually became an inspector of installed water mains, and his connection to Lane helped George work through his financial difficulties in the housebuilding business.194 Louisa's letters illuminate the intensity of the connections between Lane's family and the Whitmans. George began inspecting pipe for the Water Works in 1867, and Louisa twice in summer the following year reported Jeff's assurance that George's employment would be stable: "george would not be discharged as long as mr Lane was there."195 Lane's assistance to Walt's hospital work is well known, but even for that Louisa's letters offer intriguing additions. Jeff had urged Walt to send a letter of thanks to the children of several of his fellow engineers—the children themselves had raised and contributed funds for the benefit of the soldiers—and one contributor was Lane's daughter.196 According to Louisa, Walt's letter of thanks to the four young girls led to an elaborate choreography in which they each took a turn possessing the letter.197
The Whitman's family connections to Lane were not sufficient to connect George permanently to Water Works employment because Lane remained in Brooklyn only into spring 1869: he resigned shortly after the New York Legislature reorganized the Water Board in April with city-appointed commissioners, who replaced an appointed board that had been shielded from local electioneering. One of the new commissioners, Thomas Kinsella, conservative Democrat and longtime editor of the Daily Eagle, had pushed the board toward greater responsiveness to the interests of property owners, and his new position on the oversight board added teeth to pronouncements from his old editorial perch. No longer would an independent Water Board exercise autonomous taxing authority and lay at the feet of property owners the cost of installing water and sewage lines and contracting for the paving, cleaning, and lighting of streets. The long-serving engineer Lane had no interest in adapting to the new dispensation, so he resigned at the end of the month. George's position as an inspector for the Water Works—though often by 1869 located not at the city installation sites but at R. D. Wood Foundry sites in Camden and Millville, New Jersey, where he inspected newly manufactured pipe—became tenuous.198 Louisa well understood that the new board, which prompted Lane's resignation, was a threat to George's employment and thus to her own financial well-being.199 George continued with inspecting jobs for Brooklyn into late 1872, and Lane's departure eventually proved a financial blessing to George because his personal connections to the Whitman family remained strong. When Mattie visited Louisa in May 1870, Lane's wife Marinda called on her in Louisa's home.200 Marinda Lane was accompanied by Sarah Kirkwood, wife of James P. Kirkwood, an engineer who had contributed also to Walt's hospital work, had proposed the original design of the St. Louis Water Works, and had recommended Jeff to the position of chief engineer there. After a brief period as a consultant in Chicago Lane was installed as the chief engineer in Milwaukee. Once this dispersed network of engineers is understood—connected to Jeff, Walt, Louisa, and George—it is easy to explain the origin of a statement in Walt's January 1872 letter to his mother: "What do you hear from George—I kind of hope he will not go to Milwaukee."201 George's January 1872 opportunity in Milwaukee was from Lane: though George declined that opportunity, the personal connection paid off financially in early 1873 when George began to "oversee [Lane's] work" at New Jersey foundry sites in Florence and Gloucester.202
Louisa's letters only hint at possibilities, but an analysis of the dispersal of Water Works engineers and the records of the R. D. Wood Foundry might offer insight into how social networks enabled upward mobility in a transforming post-war economy, at least for those who by the fortune of gender, race, and ethnicity were not denied access to these networks and to their eventual financial fruits.203 Another Water Works employee who appears occasionally in Jeff's letters and often in Louisa's, Samuel R. Probasco, took up employment as a pipe inspector after being discharged from the Water Works in 1866. In 1867 Probasco suggested to George that he coordinate his inspection work for Lane with nearby work for Jeff.204 When George in late 1871 contacted Walt about inspection work for the city of Washington, he assumed that his own wide network of connections to engineers who had known Jeff and to former military officers employed in similar work—he named six men—might intersect with Walt's connections in the federal government and secure for him the inspection of the Washington pipe that would soon be cast at Star's Foundry.205 Walt's literary disciples are well known, but they may differ little in kind from the network of Brooklyn engineers who contributed to Walt's hospital work. Jeff's Water Works connections like Kirkwood, Lane, Davis, and Probasco by 1869 helped smooth George's transition out of the housebuilding business. Such ties were also reinforced by family friendship through Jeff's wife Mattie, Walt and Louisa, and these networks allowed George to seize on financial opportunities when they arose. While it is true that "It is not known how George Whitman accumulated so much money"—he had cash deposits of $58,000 at his death in 1901206—his access to the network of Water Works engineers must have been an important factor. George's tightfistedness, which Louisa often noted, may have contributed, but George by dint of his own energy and adaptability was able to exploit the financial possibilities that career networks offered and so to secure his rise from the working class into comfortable middle-class life.
George Washington Whitman's service during the Civil War has been documented and analyzed with great thoroughness, in the annotations to Walt's letters to George in Miller's Correspondence, in Loving's introduction, edited letters, and annotations, and, most recently and at length in Roper's Now the Drum of War. The letters in Loving's edition are primary, but Roper's family biography—which focuses as much or more upon George's service than upon Walt's hospital work and assesses George's post-war business—includes several extended quotations from Louisa's letters.207 Because George's military service has been exhaustively studied, the remarks here are confined to a note on the consequence of re-dated letters, which highlights the near frenzy that long-delayed letters from George almost certainly induced in the Whitmans' Brooklyn household. Some additional detail is added for the series of loans that Jeff and Walt extended to George, for a small gift to Louisa from Jeff's wife Mattie, and for George and Louisa Orr's marriage.
Indefinite and extended date ranges for letters obscure the fact that each day's delay before a letter was received would have provoked much worry.208 For example, Miller dated Louisa's short note on George's July 23, 1863 letter "After July 23(?)" and Louisa's longer note on his August 16, 1863 letter to a range from "August 16–25(?)."209 If an indefinite range can be narrowed—for example, mail from Kentucky to Brooklyn took several days, so July 23 is impossible for the first letter—the reassurance that a letter's arrival brought, were it received promptly, can be distinguished from the mounting worry if days or weeks passed before a letter was received. In the aftermath even of relatively small battles, newspaper lists of the dead and wounded provoked overwhelming anxiety. The faults of such lists are manifold: lack of thorough accounting during the hurried assembly of names of dead and wounded, vague descriptions of injuries, varying systems of shortened name forms, phonetic spellings, and typographic errors.210 For major battles, even confidence that a son's or brother's name was not present on a day's list could hardly be reassuring: supplements to the name lists every day after major battles added to anxieties and fears, which could quickly reach fevered pitch if days also passed with no letter.
The Whitmans' fear for George in summer 1863 must have been emotionally devastating: Louisa did not receive George's July 23, 1863 letter for almost three weeks. She received it no earlier than August 13 and received no other letters from George in the interim. Jeff on August 4 wrote, "we do not hear from George"; Walt on August 11 added, "I feel so anxious to hear from George, one cannot help feeling uneasy."211 George's departure for the Ninth Corps' expedition from Kentucky to Mississippi delayed the July 23 letter, and Louisa may have received it as late as August 17: the Whitman family during the interim could only guess at his whereabouts or fate. Even when hopeful that he was not in the heat of an engagement, every extended gap between letters was excruciating because of other dangers: poor sanitation, not wounding in battle, was the most frequent cause of death during the Civil War. Even the normally stoic George recoiled from the toll of illness during the Ninth Corps' summer 1863 expedition to Mississippi: the "deaths in some of the new regts was frightfull."212 If we pay more careful attention to the likely date that Louisa received and then forwarded a letter from George, it is impossible, as Miller suggested, that Walt acknowledged George's August 16, 1863 letter with his of August 18. In fact, Walt on August 18 acknowledged receipt of George's July 23 letter. According to Louisa's note on George's August 16 letter, she delayed forwarding that letter for several days.213 Walt received the August 16 letter on August 25 and pronounced himself "glad indeed to be certain that George had got back to Kentucky."214
When George returned from war, he used the money that Louisa had husbanded from his earnings during the war to start his business. Beginning in late 1868, he began to rely on loans from Jeff, and in early 1869 Louisa negotiated another set of loans from both Walt and Jeff: the latter set of loans Jeff would eventually exchange for a mortgage on one of the houses that George was building. The speculation on the dollar amounts of loans that George received from Jeff has been contradictory. According to Berthold and Price, who cite Miller's report from Louisa's letter, "In exchange for a mortgage, Jeff was paying George $3,000 in installments of $200 per month. George needed $600 immediately, however, to pay for a last coat of plaster on his own new house."215 This was the plan as it was understood in late March 1869, and Walt did step up with an immediate loan of slightly less to pay for the plaster, $500. However, according to another analysis of a letter by Louisa, reported by Berthold and Price and cited by Roper, "by June 23, 1869, George owed [Jeff] a total of $3,400."216
The source for the revised amount is the previously noted letter in which Louisa had advised, "if you cant understand walter dear you must read it over two or three times)."217 Louisa asked Walt to assist George and bore the task of tracking the various loans, and she sought to manage the transactions such that Jeff, who at the time was far more wealthy, would bear the greater financial burden. According to Louisa's June 23, 1869 letter, Jeff initially agreed to lend George $1,000 (two $500 payments) and had agreed to lend an additional $3,000, or rather to purchase the mortgage on a house that George was building for the latter sum, probably at the lot on Flatbush Avenue.218 However, after advancing $2,400 in monthly installments toward the $3,000 mortgage, Jeff stopped making payments while still owing $600 toward the promised sum. Nonetheless, Jeff asked George to repay the initial $1,000 immediately by selling a property that Louisa's former neighbor Margret Steers planned to purchase. But George could not sell that property because he no longer owned it: he had transferred that mortgage to a mason to settle an outstanding debt. Jeff asked George not to sell the $3,000 property—the ownership of which Jeff claimed though according to the agreement $600 remained outstanding—and George apparently threw up his hands. The mortgage for the home on Jeff's property sat at the title recorder's office awaiting an additional $600 payment before it could be transferred. The reason that Jeff wanted George to repay the $1,000 immediately was so that he could speculate on an iron furnace manufacturer. The emphasis on dollar amounts may of course obscure a more significant point, that two of the sons who were relying on their mother to help keep track of the complex transactions were sometimes oblivious to her needs.
The matters of high finance between brothers, which have drawn significant scholarly attention, were secondary in Louisa's life to a small remark that she made about an enclosure from Jeff's wife in the same letter. Mattie, in her most recent letter, had enclosed for Louisa a small gift, two shinplasters, fifty cents. Louisa's brief remark on the gift—"quite a lift wasent it walt"—reveals her emotional state by its stark contrast to the house investment opportunities, which are measured in dollars by the thousands.219
Though Louisa complained often about George's stinginess, a critical reading suggests that George and his new wife Louisa Orr were motivated often, if not always, by compassion. Perhaps emblematic of the caution we should observe before judging them is that many basic details about their life remain disputed. For example, the consensus of Whitman scholars has been that George married Louisa Orr Haslam in April 1871, but it is somewhat more likely that they married in March.220 The newly married couple undertook a serious effort to aid Nancy's children, as noted earlier, a choice that must have been motivated by compassion because Nancy was in no position to pay them. But their desire to take in Jeff's daughters after Mattie's death seemed, at least in Louisa's eyes, to be motivated more by self-interest. They probably took on the task of caring for Louisa for her final year with compassionate intent, but both George and Louisa Orr at moments of financial or emotional stress were willing to take her household labor for granted. Their motives must have been more complex than Louisa's letters allow them to seem, and Louisa may have had more appreciation for their generosity had not her own sorrows and health difficulties during her final months of life dominated her concerns.
Louisa's letters add little to what has been reported in Whitman scholarship about Jesse, but they add enough detail about Edward, her disabled younger son whose need for care ensured that he would remain a constant presence in her life, that the usual emphasis on his epileptic fits, deformed limbs, and limited mental capacity should be reconsidered. Jesse returned to the Whitman household between 1860 and 1863, and he remained with Louisa until he was institutionalized in late 1870. Roper's "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer" (1993) is definitive. He draws from Louisa's letters, documents Jesse's life has a sailor, and reviews the documents of his institutionalization. Roper's account supersedes Molinoff's brief notes and encompasses Loving's basic review of Jesse's life as well as Walt's niece Jessie Louisa Whitman's family account. Only Genoways's recently discovered Whitman letter on Jesse's termination at the Naval Yard has added significant detail.221 A brief remark on Jesse's return to Brooklyn and his death are merited here; by contrast, the demeaning simplification of Edward's life in family biography deserves reconsideration.
In two of her earliest known letters, from 1860, Louisa informed Walt that Jesse found employment at the United States Navy Yard in Brooklyn and wished to return home. She rejected Jesse's request as impractical: "Jess has got to work in the navy yard again he was here last night and wanted to come home again I told him he would have to hire board somewhere as I had hired out so much of the house I had no place for him to sleep."222 When Jesse moved into the Portland Avenue home is not known—perhaps after he was fired from the Navy Yard in late 1861—but Jesse was again living with his family by February 1863, though it is unclear whether he contributed to rent or his own board.223 After Jesse was institutionalized in 1870, Louisa's letters have one remark on him on the occasion when Tom Rome, who was also institutionalized, escaped from the Flatbush Asylum: Jesse apparently declined to accompany Tom when he fled.224 Several weeks after Jesse's death on March 21, 1870, Louisa asked Walt to contact the attending physician and learn more about his final days. She also lamented, just after his death, that Jesse was buried in a "paupers grave."225
Though Edward was a constant in Louisa's life, the scattered detail about him in letters can only suggest caution about the undue emphasis in Whitman biography on his physical and mental impairments. And the letters do allow us to adjudicate tentatively the discrepancy between two portraits of Edward, the earlier one drawn by Molinoff and the later one by the aged Jessie Louisa Whitman (Jeff and Mattie's daughter), who offered a rejoinder to Whitman biographers. According to the portrait by Molinoff, drawn from personal reports by Ulysses Goodenough, a member of the family in which Edward boarded after his mother's death, Edward sat silently the entire day playing with his dog Carlo, was teased by children, had to be prevented from devouring all food before him, and would be found "just standing motionlessly and gazing at the sky for several hours."226 Hannah Severns, also interviewed by Molinoff, recalled that Edward "had a fiery temper."227 Loving, whose portrait of Edward relies heavily on Molinoff's sketch, highlights Jeff's desire to place Edward in an asylum after Jesse's outburst. The Edward from late in his life that predominates in Molinoff's sketch should not be juxtaposed with the Edward in Brooklyn from more than two decades earlier. Jeff only recommended institutionalizing Edward when he was in high agitation about Jesse's recent outburst—Jeff in the same letter indicated that he might have shot Jesse. And Jeff did not imply that Edward would need to be institutionalized immediately. Loving's suggestion that Edward was a possible threat to his mother—"never presented as much danger to his mother as her eldest son"—is not borne out by any of her letters, nor Jeff's letters. Jeff proposed placing his brother in an asylum because he thought Edward a burden that neither he nor Walt would be willing to bear after Louisa's death.228
According to the recollection of Edward's niece Jessie Louisa, Whitman biographers were unfair to Edward. She recalled that Edward was entrusted to take her and her older sister Manahatta "on long afternoon excursions in a pushcart" without other supervision or any concern should they be away for an extended period.229 The Edward that Jessie Louisa remembered from her childhood may have been far more capable than the man from two decades later, whose epileptic seizures could by then have contributed to significant brain degeneration. When Jessie Louisa knew Edward best, he was in his early and mid-thirties. Goodenough recalled Louisa's son from the late 1880s when Edward was in his late forties and early fifties. Two decades is a significant span in the life of any person, and epileptic seizures may have led to even more marked differences than typical in Edward's case.
One cannot discount entirely the possibility that Edward represented a threat of some physical violence to children, as reported by Molinoff, but the physical degeneration in his later years probably meant that restricted movements of his limbs rendered him no serious threat to those who might tease or harass him. Regardless, Louisa's letters provide no hint that he ever represented a threat to his mother and abundant evidence that she relied on him for much. Edward was a faithful parishioner at Beecher's Plymouth Church, which was at a remove of at least several blocks from the Whitmans' various Brooklyn homes. And Edward had to be fairly independent to travel on his own to locate Nancy and her children in 1867. Moreover, as noted earlier, Louisa apparently teased Edward and derived some entertainment from his rising frustration after his encounter with the Democrat. If Edward was capable of being roused to frustration when teased about presidential politics, he must have been sufficiently aware of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson—a subject of table talk between his mother and brother George—to become emotionally engaged in the outcome. The repeated emphasis on Molinoff's reported details about Edward's life—epileptic fits, mindless devouring of food, and deformed limbs—may be apt for his later years but are probably inaccurate for the earlier period. Of course, Jessie Louisa's remarks may be colored by fond reflection and a desire to defend her family. Though Louisa's letters offer too little detail for us to construct Edward's inner life, they do provide a reasonably strong suggestion that his life, like his mother's, had a greater variety of tonal nuance than Whitman scholarship has previously conveyed.
When Walt in his August 1888 conversation with Traubel declared his mother "illiterate in the formal sense," her temperament—as revealed by his Civil War letters to her—was rendered a function of her relationship to him, as a mother absorbed into and reflected through his own words. But even Walt cannot control his own legacy completely, and Louisa's letters at the time of publication will be represented more comprehensively in digital form on the Whitman Archive than Walt's own. The full range of her letters exert their own gravity: they move the center of orbit in family correspondence from Walt to his mother, they highlight her wide range of social interactions and her verbal inventiveness in spite of the grating burden of financial dependency, they illuminate some familiar phrases in Walt's poetry and correspondence, and they may invite scholars to reconsider the impetus for Walt's first post-Civil War revision to Leaves of Grass.
Walt's mother is his most significant correspondent by general acclamation and his most frequent by a decisive margin. Two of the earliest editions of his selected letters consist entirely of his letters to his mother during and after the Civil War, The Wound Dresser (1897) and Walt Whitman's Letters to His Mother, 1866–1872 (1936). The present count of Walt's extant letters from his earliest known through his mother's death in May 1873 is 570.230 Walt addressed his mother in 159 of the letters, just below twenty-eight percent. His extant letters to other family members during his mother's lifetime are small in number by comparison: thirteen to Jeff and four to George. In fact, Walt's letters to correspondents outside his family (again, though May 1873) far exceed in number those to any family member: forty-five to Peter Doyle, thirty-nine to Ellen M. and William D. O'Connor, and eighteen to Abby H. Price.
Our sense of Walt's correspondence is of course shaped by the historical accident of the letters that happen to be preserved and are now known to scholars, but Walt's dedication to collecting his mother's letters helped to ensure their preservation. During the war, Louisa's letters from Brooklyn connected Walt in Washington, daughter Mary and family in Greenport at the opposite end of Long Island, daughter Hannah Louisa and husband Charles Heyde in Vermont, and son George during his deployment throughout various theaters of the conflict. Beginning in 1868, Jeff and wife Mattie in St. Louis became another instance of far-flung family that Louisa's correspondence sought to keep connected. Louisa's letters many times were sent with an enclosed letter from another family member or (if not) a quote or paraphrase from a letter in her own words. Only after March 1873, when Louisa suffered her serious decline in health, would the energy that she had devoted to maintaining family connections through her letters wane.
The merit of Louisa's letters—aside from their biographical information about Walt and their clues to "familiar usages" that inspired him—is that they are a rare extended record of the life of a working-class woman during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The letters exhibit the emotional and social burdens of limited education, spousal mistreatment, and the ever-present concerns of uncertain housing and poverty. But they are not the litany of bitterness and woe that Miller emphasized in the Correspondence: she was immersed in the periodical culture of her day, displayed a remarkable ability to maintain social networks, sought to sustain others in times of hardship and trial, showed remarkable resilience in managing her own burdens, and had a genuinely engaging personality.
The latter two qualities permitted her to move with ease in a wide variety of social circles: the breadth of these connections almost by themselves dispels the suspicion that she was a psychological burden on her son. She was at ease upon meeting Walt's literary acquaintances Thoreau and Alcott, and she welcomed Walt's friends and disciples, the O'Connors and Burroughs, into her home. Jeff's engineering peers Moses Lane and Joseph Phineas Davis were her friends as well. Abby Price, her daughters Helen and Emily, and Ellen M. O'Connor were friends to Louisa as well as to Walt. Louisa was Walt's source for details about extended family in rural Long Island, and she enjoyed an array of other Brooklyn friends and acquaintances that she had built up over four decades of life in the city. The new availability of digital resources—census records, city directories, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for example—have contributed to the annotation of these neighbors and friends and will enable scholars to study in greater depth her acquaintances outside those who have gained renown largely through their connection to her son.
Louisa's unorthodox punctuation should not distract attention from a more notable quality, her sharp attention to common and familiar verbal forms that she and Walt shared to describe the passage from day to day—and her recognition of the poet's ability to see the everyday with fresh eyes. For both Louisa and Walt one of the most frequent phrases in their letters is "about the same," but she read even Walt's most familiar phrases with care. After his January 1873 stroke, he promised to share his condition faithfully, "the exact truth—neither better nor worse."231 Louisa demanded no less: "write just as you are walter ¶ dont say you are better than you are."232 Yet in late April Walt resorted to the familiar phrase to describe his condition, "I am about the same."233 Despite her own failing health, Louisa was unsatisfied with her son's shorthand: "you dident write how you was particularly that you was abou[t?] the same."234 Though she may not have responded to that letter—the date can only be established as a range, and she may have caught Walt's earlier attempt to pass over details—she was aware of his unusual power of observation and for his own health would accept no less. Walt's phrase "I sit and look out" is so characteristic in his journalism that Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz chose it as their title for a selection of his writings from the Brooklyn Daily Times.235 In 1863, after Walt moved to 456 Sixth Street West near Pennsylvania Avenue, where he had boarded with Eliza S. Baker, he wrote to his mother of his confidence that it would be "a very good winter room, as it is right under the roof & looks south, has low windows, is plenty big enough."236 Louisa recognized immediately the quality of his insight: "you must write next week all about your new quarters how you like your room that fronts the south i shouldent have thought any thing about its fronting the north or south)."237
Louisa's letters are reminders that Walt's eminent place among poets results in part from his ability to discern the poetic in the familiar. In June 1867 Louisa wrote to Walt that his brother George had leg pains, which were aggravated by much walking: "he was here to breakfast this morning but felt as if he would like to loaf and live at his ease."238 Her phrase recalls one of the most famous lines in her son's poetry, "I lean and loafe at my ease" (1855). But whether she echoed Walt's poem, later to be titled "Song of Myself," or the poem's line is his inverted echo of her familial expression cannot be determined. If the former, it is she who absorbed the language of Walt's poetry, made familiar by her reading, into herself.
Of greater historical interest is her remark to Walt about Leaves of Grass during a period in which his activities are thinly documented from his letters. In her February 12, 1868 letter, probably in response to a lost letter from Walt that dates February 10 or 11, 1868, Louisa closed with a brief remark: "so your writin[g?] again leaves of grass well if it dont hurt you i am glad."239 The presence of this phrase has been noted, but the general uncertainty about the dates of her letters may have allowed one potential significance of the date to escape attention.240 If Walt informed Louisa that he was working on Leaves of Grass in February 1868, he had begun the revision that would lead to the fifth American edition (1871–72). If so, the date that he began revising that edition would conflict with present scholarly consensus, that he took up the fifth edition "as early as summer 1869."241 That Walt began his revision earlier is also suggested in his October 9, 1868 letter to Peter Doyle, that he intended to soon have the "new & improved edition set up & stereotyped, which it is my present plan to do the ensuing winter at my leisure in Washington."242 It bears more investigation whether Walt's revisions for the 1870 edition were well in progress in early and mid-1868. If he began revising for the fifth edition over a year earlier than thought, his correspondence concerning William Michael Rossetti's expurgated London edition, Poems by Walt Whitman (Hotten, 1868), may have played a more significant role in prompting his return to his book of poems, and perhaps in informing his revision of it.243
Louisa's letters, though they shed light on Walt's poetry, are more often revealing about the unpleasant aspects of day-to-day tasks like housecleaning and childcare, which remained Louisa's burden but evoked Walt's sympathy. Perhaps most telling among the tasks that Louisa took upon herself—because it needed to be done—was to monitor the passing of a penny after her granddaughter Jessie Louisa "Sis" swallowed it. In March 1867, Sis was not yet four, but her mother Mattie was too occupied with other matters to be concerned about the penny.
i hope when she comes back she will settle down and be a little like herself i hardly see her she s so engag[ed?] in company and dress you know i wrote about sis swallowing the peny the next day morning matty and her friend went out so i kept sis and wached her and the penny passed through her when her mother came home she never asked any thing abou[t?] it so i wouldent tell her244
Walt, who from his hospital work understood well the tasks of personal care, which for Louisa at this moment was the careful examination of her granddaughter's excrement, gently turned his mother's attention from the unpleasantness of the act and from her frustration with her daughter-in-law Mattie. To the first report on the penny he responded with eager concern, in his letter's opening paragraph: "I want to hear whether sis got over swallowing the penny—don't forget to write about it." To the second letter on the topic he responded with gratitude, again in the opening paragraph of his letter: "I was glad to hear that sis's penny had a safe journey."245 Walt emphasized the ethics of care and struck a remarkably conciliatory note that is leavened with humor. Walt's words could not undo what Louisa's clear sense of her own assigned responsibility underlined about her place in the household, but his words mark generous concern for the burdens that she bore.
As this introduction began with letters of complaint that Louisa wished would be burned, it is fitting to close with the dominant sentiment in her letters, gratitude for the gifts of money, paper, envelopes, books, and sundries. When reading Walt's letters without his mother's replies, one may easily pass over his occasional enclosure of small gifts. In many cases, he neglected even to mention them, which renders them invisible in the edited correspondence. Upon reading Louisa's letters, one realizes soon that these small gifts were not occasional enclosures but consistent and essential sustenance that Walt sent with almost every letter, a generosity that taxed Louisa's verbal ingenuity and that make her letters today a litany of inventive formulas of thanks. Here follows a representative sample: "i have received your letter with 3 dollars"; "i have just receeved your favor as the business men say enclosing 3 doller"; "thanks for your remembrance"; "got your letter with the ten dollars and am very much Obliged to you"; "just got your letter with the order and am much Obliged and it comes very acceptable"; "with many thanks for money and books"; "got your letter to day tuesday with the money all safe am Obliged to you for it"; "O walt i am so thankful to you for your kindness to me in sending me money at all times"; "i suppose you have got my letter i wrote last saturday as soon as i received yours with the money"; "i received your letter to day walt its a great consolation to get your letters nearly all the comfort i have) as i have no one to talk too about any of my own"; "i have just receeved your letter this stormy morning with the dollar in sometimes i want a little change but dont send it only once in a while)."246 The small gifts that Walt enclosed helped his mother to maintain a semblance of personal dignity, one which biographical readings like Ceniza's and Roper's have restored, one which this edition of letters seeks to preserve.
In an 1891 letter to his sister Hannah, Walt explained the purpose of the mausoleum that he was constructing near Camden: "it is my design to gather the remains of our dear mother & father and & have them buried there too in the tomb that I have had built for myself."247 Walt's wishes were fulfilled, and the mausoleum now holds also the remains of his mother Louisa, father Walter, Sr., sister Hannah, brother George and wife Louisa Orr, and their infant son. Justin Kaplan observes that his mausoleum "in a lasting assertion of self, merged their identities into his; the pediment of his mausoleum bore only one name, 'Walt Whitman.' "248 The digital archive that bears the poet's name now encompasses another, his mother Louisa, whose letters may best serve those readers who heed his great poem, and who, upon failing to fetch him at first, should keep encouraged, who missing him in one place should search another.
Each of the 170 letters in this edition is represented by high-resolution digital images, an authoritative transcription, and full annotation. Twenty-seven of the letters have not been listed previously in editions of Whitman's correspondence. This edition follows the practice set down by Miller and Genoways and continued by the Whitman Archive, to err on the side of comprehensiveness by designating as correspondence even brief items such as postcard acknowledgments, draft or incomplete letters, or notes on forwarded letters. In the case of Louisa's letters, two of hers to Walt consist of a brief note on a forwarded letter from George during the Civil War. Three more brief items during the month of her death include a two-line "short letter," a one-line postscript to daughter-in-law Louisa Orr's letter, and a one-line deathbed note, which may not have been sent by mail because Walt had already arrived in Camden.
The practice of this edition in the matters of scope, dating, transcription, and annotation is in debt to previous scholars. This edition both honors and builds on the practice of previous work, conforms to the wider practice of the Whitman Archive, and, when deemed necessary by the editor, adopts alternate methods. Some modifications of common editorial practices are demanded by the qualities of these letters as material documents, and other modifications are demanded by the characteristics of digital-only publication in the context of the Whitman Archive, where these letters will likely be first encountered as individual documents.
Of the 170 letters in this edition 144 are drawn from two manuscript letter books held in the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. The letters are held in two bound volumes entitled Walt Whitman: An Extensive Collection of Holograph Letters by His Mother Mrs. L. Whitman (Louisa Van Velsor, 1795-1873.): […] Vol. I: 1860–1868 and Vol. II: 1868–1873, hereafter Extensive Collection (Vol. 1 or Vol. 2).249 According to Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Rubenstein Library, the manuscript letters from Louisa were originally in the possession of Whitman executor Richard Maurice Bucke. An unknown collector, who purchased the letters after Bucke's collection was dispersed, had typed transcriptions prepared and mounted the letters with typescripts in the two Extensive Collection volumes that were acquired by Josiah C. Trent. The remaining letters in the Trent Collection, four of them, are written on the surface of letters from a bound volume of George Washington Whitman's Civil War letters.
The second largest set of letters, formerly in the T. E. Hanley Collection, is now part of the Walt Whitman Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Thirteen letters from Louisa to Walt are bound, also with typescripts, in a volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, 1863-1873, hereafter A Series of Thirteen Letters. Of these thirteen letters formerly in the Hanley Collection, eight are dated by Bucke. An additional letter from Louisa is on an otherwise blank surface of Hannah's November 10, 1868 letter, which is also held in the Walt Whitman Collection.
The remaining letters from Louisa to Walt are held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, Library of Congress (4 letters and one fragment), in the Walt Whitman Collection, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University (1 letter and a fragment), and in the Papers of Walt Whitman, Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia (1 letter).250 Of these, Bucke dated only one of the Feinberg letters. All letters from Louisa to Walt in the preceding collections are included in this edition, but letters from Louisa to other recipients have been excluded because the principle for inclusion is that Louisa sent (or presumably intended to send) the letter to Walt. Eleven letters from Louisa to Helen or Abby Price are held at the Morgan Library & Museum. A single letter from Louisa to Thomas Jefferson Whitman is held at Northwestern University.
In his list of "Letters Written to Whitman" in the Correspondence (vol. 2), Miller encapsulated the difficulty of dating Louisa's letters and describes his procedure:
The literary executors undertook the difficult task of dating Mrs. Whitman's letters, and for the most part arrived at dates which, if not absolutely certain, are at least plausible. I have not hesitated to alter dates when in my judgment they appeared to be erroneous, but because of difficulties in reading Mrs. Whitman's hand and because of the absence of verifiable material in many of her letters, I cannot guarantee their accuracy.251
Miller presumably applied the same procedure for Louisa's letters in volume 1 of the Correspondence, though it should be noted that he in both cases generally also accepted the revised dates by Gohdes and Silver in Faint Clews & Indirections. As new incoming correspondence to Walt has been identified, Miller's list has been updated in later volumes of the Correspondence and supplements by Miller himself and more recently by Genoways (the "Letters Written to Walt Whitman" were combined with Walt's letters and re-named the "Calendar of Letters"). However, the minor alterations of dates for Louisa's letters in the updated calendars are not the result of systematic reassessment for her letters, and the revised lists of dates for Walt's incoming letter dates are sometimes very difficult to associate with particular letters.252 Because Genoways' revised "Calendar of Letters" serves as the backbone for the Whitman Archive letters and because footnotes in volumes 1 and 2 of the Correspondence allow for more certain identification of those letters that Miller re-dated from the executors, Miller's Correspondence dates—as best as can be determined—are reported throughout this edition. To identify which date Miller (or Genoways) assigned to a letter from Louisa in their calendars is difficult, and that task has been undertaken assiduously but has remained secondary to dating her letters properly.
The task of assigning dates for her letters can be illustrated by considering the most common date assignments in her hand and a few individual examples of mis-dated letters. The large letter collections are in bound volumes, so any association between a letter and one of the few scattered envelopes is now a subject of conjecture. Thirty-three of Louisa's letters have no reference at all to a date or day of the week, and forty-five letters have only a day of the week, such as "sunday" or "tuesday." Dates on many of the letters are marginally more informative, such as "16" or "26 thursday."253 Even the year for some brief letters is not obvious, and some dates in Louisa's hand are not reliable. The executors and Miller assign the year 1865 to a letter that Louisa in her hand dated "Cristmas," but I have reassigned the letter to the year 1863.254 The most common procedure is to assign a month and year from context (Louisa's reference to a letter from Walt or another family member) and then from her reference to the day of the week or calendar date narrow the range of possible dates, which must then be confirmed to accord, if possible, with additional information about the time of writing from the content of the letter. Dates assigned in this manner are trusted when no alternative seems possible, but annotation of events to which she refers shows that she sometimes erred. She dated a letter in which she referred to Walt's Valentines as "tuesday 14," and February 14 fell on Tuesday in 1871. The executors and Miller assigned the letter to that year. However, Louisa in the letter referred to a man named "vanvories" who was "shot sunday night," which must be Dominicus S. Vorhees, a builder, who was shot not in 1871 but the previous year. She therefore wrote either on Monday, February 14, or Tuesday, February 15, 1870: her "tuesday 14" cannot be correct.255
I have revised the assigned date ranges or dates for seventy-one letters, almost forty percent of them.256 Also, twenty-seven letters that have not been listed previously in the Correspondence calendars are now assigned specific dates or date ranges. The extraordinary efforts of the executor Bucke and previous editors of the letters—Miller, Gohdes and Silver, Loving, Waldron, Berthold and Price, and Genoways—have made possible the systematic re-dating of Louisa's letters.
Because readers on the Whitman Archive are likely to encounter these letters with a search that returns an individual item or during the process of browsing or studying a small series of letters from a particular period, I have provided full historical, linguistic, and textual annotation for each letter. The historical annotation is primarily one of the following types: a date assigned; family members mentioned by name or indirectly; letters received by Louisa; neighbors, friends, and soldiers; engineers and others associated with the Brooklyn Water Works or the office of the Attorney General; publications by Walt and reviews of his work in periodicals; current events of local or national significance as reported in New York newspapers, primarily the Brooklyn Daily Eagle; other periodicals and books; geographical references to natural landmarks or named places; ships; diseases or health conditions and treatment methods; and foodstuffs. At the level of linguistic annotation, I have glossed unfamiliar words that are now obsolete or are associated with regional dialect, words that may be difficult to recognize in Louisa's phonetic spelling, and words that are presumably errors or which because of the lack of syntactic markers may cause present-day readers difficulty. At the level of textual annotation, I have noted expansions of shortened words or abbreviations, words inferred from the physical documents rather than the digital reproductions, and words based on transcriptions in documents for which the paper has deteriorated. In some cases, annotations cross the boundary between explanatory and textual, such as when likely readings are proposed when the combination of errors or omitted words may have multiple causes: accidental omission of letters, paper damage, partial correction, likely errors, etc.
For annotations to assign a date, I have relied on the following factors: 1) Louisa's acknowledgment of receipt of Walt's letter or his acknowledgment of hers; 2) references to receipt of letters by or from other family members; 3) references to periodical publications of Walt's poems or reviews of his work; 4) references to city or national political events as reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, another newspaper, or Walt's or another family member's letter; 5) the absence of acknowledgment or statement that a known letter has been received; 6) references to the expected arrival or departure of Walt, another family member, or a family friend for a visit; 7) internal consistency of an ongoing subject that is shared in another family member's letters or confined to Louisa's and Walt's own; 8) similarity of paper or ink or hand; 9) and, when no other evidence is available, the dates assigned by executors or editors. As dates of so many letters depend on readings of ongoing subjects—such as detecting linguistic echoes or abbreviated mentions of topics that may be treated in non-extant letters—I offer full explanations for assigning letters to specific dates or date ranges.
The Whitman Archive and its bibliography, along with Joel Myerson's Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, Miller's first two volumes of the Correspondence and Genoways's seventh volume, and the previous editions of family correspondence have been unfailing guides to Whitman scholarship, editions and publications, and family letters. Scholarly biographies and reference works—like Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (1998) and A Whitman Chronology (1998)—are now supplemented by digital access to census records, to Brooklyn Public Library city directories and the Daily Eagle, and many to publicly accessible or subscription-access libraries of nineteenth century periodicals and books. All have contributed to the systematic dating and annotation of these letters. No separate list of abbreviations for reference sources is maintained: full bibliographical information is included in the footnotes to individual letters.
Editors and critics of Louisa's letters have applied various systems of punctuation-style markup to ease the identification of syntactic units of prose. Gohdes and Silver in Faint Clews & Indirections and Miller in the Correspondence claimed, the former directly and the latter in policy and practice, that readers deserve some degree of editorial intervention to distinguish Louisa's sentences and sentence fragments.257 By contrast, Ceniza has defended the absence of punctuation markings as integral to Louisa's style, which like Walt's Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass creates "a flow of thought that is unbroken by standard grammatical signs."258 In that Preface, the poet adopted in place of standard punctuation signs a series of space-separated points or periods that range in number from two to nine dots. Louisa likewise had her own all-purpose punctuation mark, which is transcribed in this edition as a closing parenthesis, but she employed her mark more flexibly than the closing parenthesis in formal punctuation: her mark is used to close, pause, or temporarily suspend a thought, much like Walt deployed the series of periods in the Preface.
Moon and Sedgwick like many others have claimed that Louisa never capitalized or punctuated: this is not strictly true, as even they acknowledge.259 But a search of her entire letters corpus for the most familiar punctuation marks of nineteenth century prose—the comma, the period, the apostrophe, the dash—is pointless. The lower-case "i" predominates in the surviving letters corpus, but some of her earliest letters employ the capitalized form on occasion: over time she abandoned the upper case form of the nominative first-person pronoun. She did capitalize some words, most often names or titles of people outside her family: she always capitalized "Dr" and the surname of her son-in-law "Heyde," and sometimes the initial letter in names is so much larger than letters which follow that capitalization has been adopted as the most appropriate transcription.
In any case, neither capitalization nor Louisa's one common punctuation mark was deployed systematically or consistently. In her hand, the parenthesis-style mark varies in shape: she most often wrote a very tall mark that resembles a closing parenthesis—which is why that form has been adopted in the transcription—but sometimes she wrote a short mark that resembles a slightly exaggerated comma. The tall mark in some instances resembles a vertical pipe, but the three most common styles of the mark—exaggerated comma, closing parenthesis, vertical pipe—have the same rhetorical function.260 No rhetorical significance is associated with the various shapes of the mark: all serve as a weak stop or mark for a change in thought. I have not once in her letters identified a parenthetical aside, a phrase that is marked off as an interruption. In recognition of that quality, I have preferred the closing-parenthesis mark, except in a few cases in which the curve is so pronounced in the opposite direction that an opening parenthesis seems the better transcription. Her mark signals a brief stay before the headlong rush of thought resumes.
The practice of inserting extra space to mark off syntactic units, employed by Gohdes and Silver and by Moon and Sedgwick, echoes the typed transcriptions that were prepared in the early twentieth century for the three manuscript notebooks, Extensive Collection (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) and A Series of Thirteen Letters, but the spacing of syntactic units is nowhere present in Louisa's manuscript letters.261 She employed occasional paragraph breaks, which are reproduced in this edition. In one unusual case, a hand that is probably Louisa's has applied a texture of dashes and corrections of capitalization, but those corrections—which are visible in the manuscript letter but very faint in the digital images—may have been prompted by a visiting school-age granddaughter.262 In all letters save that one, the capitalization, parenthesis-style closing mark, and her idiosyncratic paragraphing are not employed with a sufficient degree of gradation or specificity to substitute for formal punctuation. Ceniza's concise observation is the authoritative word on the subject: Louisa's "lack of punctuation forces each word to relate to the next on a more or less equal basis."263 And Ceniza's sound advice has guided transcription practice on this edition: no extra spacing to designate syntactic units and no clarifying punctuation marks have been inserted into the text.
The absence of graphic means to identify syntactic units places greater emphasis on written language as a sign system for oral performance, a script in which the reader must intuit intonation and gesture. The effect is not easily discerned but often revealing upon close study. Gohdes and Silver use extra whitespace, an em quad, to designate independent sentences and sentence fragments. Their formal texture of punctuation spaces is restrained and subtle, but some space markers that they insert lessen Louisa's authority and break apart syntactically connected ideas. For example, in March 1869, Louisa reported to Walt that she had been reading "Whispers of Heavenly Death" from its appearance in The Broadway: A London Literary Magazine. Gohdes and Silver mark out syntactic units with spaces of em-quad length, a practice that has been typical for separating sentences—including those with formal punctuation—during most eras of printing before our own.
well walter i have the whisper of heavenly death it lays here on the table by my side i have read it over many times and have had one person ask me to let her take it hom i said no i would rather not let it go out of my hands and am very glad i did so as you wish me to reserve it i felt as if i should preserve it for i liked it it was so solemn)264
The uninterrupted phrase "i said no i would rather not" is less decisive than an equally plausible alternative rendering, if three short words are a single syntactic unit: "i said no." Either reading is plausible in the manuscript. By contrast, the space that Gohdes and Silver add between "i liked it" and "it was so solemn)" marks out the final three words as a very short syntactic unit. The editors mark the phrase as a "sentence," but their marking emphasizes the brevity of Louisa's utterance. Their interpretive editorial act—attenuating the link between Louisa's attribution of solemnity to the poem and her decision to keep in hand her copy of the poem—highlights instead of her own agency her willingness to comply with Walt's wish.
Louisa used phonetic spelling—which is characteristic of the era in which she learned to write—and she never disciplined her own spelling with the more regular forms of mid-century print publication and dictionaries. However, her English spelling is no more difficult than early eighteenth-century print or late nineteenth-century dialect. As scholars and students who will read her words on the Whitman Archive may be presumed to share a serious interest in a mid-nineteenth-century poet, the "convenience of readers" is not a sufficient justification for modernizing or regularizing her spelling.
A few brief illustrations of her characteristic spellings and the editorial treatment of her written hand may be ventured. Louisa is widely noted for writing "i" instead of "I": the lower-case "i" is a defining mark of her style. Instead of an apostrophe for possession or a contraction, she often (but not always) placed a space before the "s," so it is "davis s" and "addams s express." She tended to include the space if the concluding "s" is pronounced separately in a possessive word form: it is "george s" but "jeffs" and "hatties." Our present-day contractions with an apostrophe, in her hand have none: "wouldent," "couldent," and "dident." And she added a terminal "f" after a pronounced "-gh" digraph: "enoughf " and "coughf." All of these are reasonably common spellings for handwritten texts in her era. Her spelling "doo" is easily deciphered. Readers may be briefly stymied by her "im," but familiarity with her habits for the first-person nominative pronoun and contractions allows readers to decipher the form.
One word that is frequent but spelled many ways is her short form of "dollar," which appears in most letters and is gloriously inconsistent: "dollar," but also "dlr," "doller," "dol," "dole," and "dolr" as well as plural forms of most variants. As no regular form is ever settled upon, the most likely alphabetic characters in her word form have been transcribed. Her numbers are very difficult—I for example transcribe a regiment designation "14" that Miller transcribed as "94,"265 and readers not inclined to undertake an extensive study of her hand must trust the editor's judgment. Louisa's own remark about the curious shapes of her numbers eased an editor's frustration with her hand: "walt you may laughf at this figure three it looks a little like a comic picture i cant help but laughf myself."266
As with the many short forms of the word "dollar," editorial judgment is applied for names and for words that are cut away in the documents or are obscured by ink or water stains or by paper deterioration, including tears and folds. Her spellings of names are honored—for example, her spellings "maquire" and "maguire" refer to the same name McClure—but the annotation provides full guidance and the regularized spelling.267 Partial or probable readings are encoded with a markup tag to designate a word "unclear," and the editor's inferred reading is displayed between square brackets with a question mark preceding the closing bracket. Only the doubtful letters are enclosed in the brackets.
Because some have regarded her as illiterate, silent correction could be seen as tilting evidence toward my own view that she was literate. Therefore, no systematic editorial smoothing has been applied aside from some very limited cases that are matters of inescapable editorial judgment. I have tried to accurately follow her spellings of the words that she wrote, even when her spelling is clearly faulty. For some probable errors, such as "[r?]ecent [p?]arknesses," I have proposed in the notes possible readings from context, such as "recent park [me]nesses," which would refer to a wave of criminal activity in a nearby city park.268 Some of her spellings, the very few that accord with the following descriptions, may be considered expanded or corrected silently: Louisa often squeezed the last few letters of a word into the available space on the right margin of the page or inserted letters above or turned her hand to a vertical orientation, and when writing hurriedly she may have included only the faintest hint of a letter's shape. Letters are transcribed without comment in the editorial transcription if some hint of the usual shape is judged present. Like many writers who employ a cursive hand, she occasionally crossed an "l" in a word, instead of the intended "t," and she sometimes placed a dot over the "e" or neglected to place a dot over an e-shaped "i." These common slips in are corrected silently.
Two qualities peculiar to her cursive hand, the form of her letter "x" and the similar hand motion for her letters "v" and "p," may unsettle readers who compare the manuscript to the transcribed text. She formed the "x" with two concave strokes (like two back-to-back parentheses rather than two crossing strokes), and the strokes sometimes do not meet at the expected joining point. That is the "x" in her hand and not an error. Her occasional substitution of "p" for "v" or "v" for "p" will in the transcription read as a curious improper spelling. The inadvertent substitutions are characteristic of her cursive hand because she used a similar motion to start both letters: her cases of "p/v" and "v/p" substitution are transcribed with the apparent letter in her hand and not corrected.
In the present design of the Whitman Archive, the mark to signal an annotation is a superscript footnote. The raised and numbered mark may suggest to some readers that the editor by its placement has designated the close of a syntactic unit in Louisa's prose. If a reader's interest is her comparative disregard for the syntactic constraints of conventionally punctuated texts and the placement of such notes distracts, please read her letters in photographic facsimile—you will need to learn her hand. Editorially transcribed digital texts share with manuscripts inscribed with ink or graphite on paper the constraints and affordances that inhere to the conditions of the available or chosen medium. Where one attribute of a text may be highlighted by a transformation into an alternate media form, another attribute may be constrained or abolished. The transcribed text of Louisa's letters—given current norms of the Whitman Archive's design—must with note markers for editorial annotation interrupt the textual representation somewhere. Notes have been placed at a position which in the editor's judgment is most apt for the note's content. Placement coincides often with the close of a named entity, often with the conclusion of an abstract or specific reference that is deemed to merit or benefit from explanatory annotation, and sometimes with the close of a probable syntactic unit. Inevitably, the Whitman Archive will be redesigned and may at that time permit varieties of note styling quite different from the capabilities and limits of today's editorial infrastructure or digital viewers or devices.
This project, "walter dear": The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt, is a digital-only publication on the Walt Whitman Archive, and it follows the guidelines of the "Editorial Policy Statement and Procedures" and the "Encoding Guidelines,"269 except for departures from those policies noted here. Because digital images of manuscript letters from Louisa to Walt have been acquired for all letters, in no case do transcriptions in this edition rely on manuscript book type transcriptions (with two minor exceptions) or previously edited texts of the letters.270 Every letter has been transcribed from the digital manuscript images, proofread silently against the digital images, annotated, and then proofread orally against the digital images. The transcriptions of the 144 letters in An Extensive Collection (Trent Collection, Duke University–Rubenstein Library) and the fourteen letters in A Series of Thirteen Letters plus her letter on Hannah's November 10, 1868 letter (Walt Whitman Collection, University of Texas–Ransom Center) have also been proofread silently against the original documents. The remaining twelve letters—four on George Whitman's letters in the Trent Collection; four plus the fragment in the Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress; one plus the fragment in the Walt Whitman Collection, Beinecke, Yale University; and one in the Clifton Waller Barrett Library, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, have been proofread only against the digital images.
In some cases, the text of the digital edition of the 144 letters bound in An Extensive Collection (Trent Collection, Duke) and A Series of Thirteen Letters (Walt Whitman Collection, Ransom Center) depart slightly from the digital image. The most common reason for the divergence between the edited text and Louisa's text in the digital image is that one can, during the examination of original documents, rotate the manuscript book, closely review text along edges and folds, and identify ink or pencil markings that are so faint as to be invisible or doubtful in the digital reproductions.
Secondary materials—envelopes, explanatory notes or date notes, and paratextual letter-book materials like title pages, bindings, and type transcriptions—are reproduced when on a letter surface but omitted when on a separate slip of paper. Information on separate slips of paper is attested according to the general guidelines that follow. The three known envelopes have not been reproduced. Bucke's dates on the manuscripts served often as letter dates in Miller's Correspondence, so they have been reproduced and transcribed as editorial notes or recorded in explanatory notes. Bucke's dates and explanatory notes on separate slips of paper are reproduced with individual letters (some because they have been detached from the binding and can be associated with a particular letter only by inference) but are addressed in the annotation. Other items, such as two notes by Waldron that are placed loose in An Extensive Collection (Trent Collection, Duke), are referenced when applicable but not reproduced. The other paratextual materials in An Extensive Collection and in A Series of Thirteen Letters (Walt Whitman Collection, Ransom Center)—title pages, bindings, mounted catalog clippings in the end papers or the inside front cover, mounting pages for the letters, and type transcriptions—are not reproduced.
This letters project, "walter dear": The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt, has relied on the support of multiple institutions and individuals. Indispensable support was provided by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which prepared digital images and granted to the Walt Whitman Archive permission to publish all letters from the Trent Collection. A generous grant for the project Walt Whitman and Reconstruction from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission enabled transcription and on-site proofreading at Duke University. Digital images and permission to reproduce letters have also been provided by the following libraries and institutions: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas; Library of Congress; Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University; and Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. Two colleagues at Kent State University were indispensable: assistant editor Felicia L. Wetzig, who prepared most initial transcriptions and annotations and assisted with the majority of the first round of oral proofreading, and Cathy Tisch in the Institute for Bibliography and Editing, who assisted with oral and silent proofreading after annotation, double-checking corrections, and many tasks of clerical processing. Again indispensable are Kenneth M. Price—who first suggested the project to me and who shared generously his deep familiarity with Whitman scholarship and his keen editorial eye—and the staff of the Whitman Archive, especially Elizabeth Lorang. My debts to the Whitman Archive; Edwin Haviland Miller's and Ted Genoways' Correspondence; Sherry Ceniza's Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers; Gay Wilson Allen's Solitary Singer; and the four recent biographers in his great tradition (Justin Kaplan, Jerome M. Loving, Davis S. Reynolds, and Robert Roper); previous editors of family letters (Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, Jerome Loving, Randall D. Waldron, and Kenneth M. Price and Dennis Berthold); and Joel L. Myerson's Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography exceed the bounds of scholarly citation. The following named persons provided significant contributions to proofreading, annotation, or guidance on individual matters: Laura Weakly, Natalie Raabe, Heather Kaley, Cathryn Humes, Zachary King, Will Hansen, Debby Applegate, Matt Cohen, Randall McCleod, Linda McCurdy, Valentino Zullo, Murray Goldstone, Debby Painter, and Sigrid Pohl Perry. Many are the debts to librarians at previously named institutions, especially Kent State and Duke University. All errors I claim as my own. The editorial work on these letters is dedicated to three twenty-first century mothers, Natalie Raabe, Margaret "Peggy" Ashner, and Molly Raabe, and to the working-class mothers whose letters are not preserved in library or museum archives.
2. Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915), 2:113. [back]
3. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden 2:114. [back]
4. John Burroughs, June 1868 letter to Ursula North Burroughs, quoted in Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 57. Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person, 2nd ed. (New York: Redfield, 1871), 79. [back]
5. Jeffrey Meyers, "Whitman's Lives," The Antioch Review 63.4 (October 1, 2005), 764. [back]
6. Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman (Glasgow: Wilson & McCormick, 1884), 15. [back]
7. Horace L. Traubel, "Notes from Conversations with George W. Whitman, 1893: Mostly in His Own Words," in In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), 35–36. "Hiawatha" refers to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha (1855), a popular poem and exact contemporary to the first edition of Leaves of Grass. [back]
8. Henry Seidel Canby, Walt Whitman, an American: a Study in Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), 12, 13. [back]
9. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and Family (New York: AMS Press, 1965; rpt. Duke University Press, 1949), 184–205, 180–181, 185. [back]
10. Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (1955; rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1967), 203, 308, 361. [back]
11. Edwin Haviland Miller, Walt Whitman's Poetry: A Psychological Journey (New York: New York University Press, 1968), 48, 55. [back]
12. For historical phases in psychoanalytic theory on causes for homosexuality, see Jack Drescher, "A History of Homosexuality and Organized Psychoanalysis," Journal of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry 36 (2008), 443–460; and "Causes and Becauses: On Etiological Theories of Homosexuality," Annual of Psychoanalysis 30 (2002), 58–59. [back]
13. Larzer Ziff, Literary Democracy: the Declaration of Cultural Independence in America (New York: Viking Press, 1981), 233. Paul Zweig, Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 116. [back]
14. Sherry Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 21, 13–15. [back]
15. Michael Moon and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Confusion of Tongues," Breaking Bounds: Whitman and American Cultural Studies, ed. Betsy Erkkila and Jay Grossman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 25–26. [back]
16. Robert Roper, Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War (New York: Walker, 2008), 382, 9, 69–81, 202. [back]
19. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 21. [back]
20. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 21. [back]
21. Walt Whitman, Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh, 1882–1883), 11. [back]
22. Burroughs, Notes on Walt Whitman, quoted in Whitman, Specimen Days, 12. [back]
23. Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914), 3:109. [back]
24. Whitman, Specimen Days, 11. [back]
25. Joseph Jay Rubin, The Historic Whitman (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1973), 10. [back]
26. Burroughs, Notes on Walt Whitman, quoted in Whitman, Specimen Days, 11. [back]
27. Roper, Now the Drum of War, 18. [back]
28. John Rietz, "Whitman, Walter, Sr. [1789-1855]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Available http://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_71.html. [back]
29. Floyd Stovall, The Foregrounds of Leaves of Grass (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974), 24. [back]
30. Horace Traubel, "Whitman in Old Age: From Horace Traubel's Record," Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 74 (1907), 749. [back]
31. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, July 13–18?, 1855 letter to Hannah Whitman Heyde, quoted in Clifton Joseph Furness, Review of American Giant: Walt Whitman and his Times, by Frances Winwar, American Literature 14 (January 1942), 427. [back]
32. For the "Panic of 1818," see Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 142–143. [back]
33. Allen, Solitary Singer, 1, 3, 5. [back]
34. Rubin, Historic Whitman, 12. [back]
35. Allen, Solitary Singer, 7. [back]
36. Whitman, Specimen Days, 14. [back]
37. Birth date of unnamed infant son: March 12, 1825, Whitman Family Bible, Library of Congress, Loving, Walt Whitman, illus. after page 208; or March 2, 1825, Richard Maurice Bucke, Family Records, Solitary Singer, 596, 597, n. 6. [back]
38. Walt Whitman, Manuscript Notebook 4, The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman: Much of Which Has Been but Recently Discovered with Various Early Manuscripts Now First Published, ed. Emory Holloway (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1921), 2:86. Allen, Solitary Singer, 7. For list of mortgages, see Katherine Molinoff, "Property Transfers of the Whitman Family," Allen, Appendix B, 598–600. Walt's manuscript is difficult to square with incomplete property records. [back]
39. Allen, Solitary Singer, 598–599. David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 25. [back]
40. Allen, Solitary Singer, 10. Edward Folsom and Kenneth M. Price, "Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Archive, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/walt_whitman/index.html. [back]
42. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, 25. [back]
43. Cited in Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs Comrades, 254. [back]
44. Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself, 30. [back]
48. Grace Haight, September 22, 1872 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress). [back]
50. Allen, Solitary Singer, 22, 24. [back]
51. Rubin, Historic Whitman, 32. [back]
52. Whitman, Specimen Days, 16. [back]
53. Whitman, Manuscript Notebook 4, Uncollected Poetry and Prose, 2:86. [back]
54. Loving, Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself, 37–39 [back]
55. "My Boys and Girls," The Rover, April 20, 1844. Reprinted in The Early Poems and Sketches, ed. Thomas L. Brasher (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 248–250. [back]
56. Justin Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), 86. Kaplan speculates that the sketch was written "long before then" (85). [back]
57. Whitman, Uncollected Poetry and Prose, 2:87. [back]
58. Roper, Now the Drum of War, 33–34, 240. [back]
59. Charles E. Feinberg, "A Whitman Collector Destroys a Whitman Myth," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 52 (Second Quarter, 1958), 91. [back]
60. Allen, Solitary Singer, 68, 599. [back]
61. Feinberg, "A Whitman Collector," 75, 78, 83, 87, 89. Molinoff, "Property Transfers," quoted in Allen, Solitary Singer, Appendix B, 598–600. Whitman, Manuscript Notebook 4, Uncollected Poetry and Prose, 2:88. [back]
62. Feinberg, "A Whitman Collector," 89. [back]
63. Molinoff, "Property Transfers," quoted in Allen, Solitary Singer, 600. [back]
64. Whitman, Manuscript Notebook 4, Uncollected Poetry and Prose, 2:88. [back]
65. Bronson Alcott, The Journals of Bronson Alcott, ed. Odell Shepard (Boston, Little Brown, 1938), 289, 290. [back]
66. Allen, Solitary Singer, 600, 216, 239–240. [back]
71. John M. McLaughlin, A Memoir of Hector Tyndale (Philadelphia: Collins, 1882), 7–9. [back]
76. According to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, "the landlord has told them they must [move] so now they expect me tto pay the rent i told nanc i would pay one month" (September 5–23?, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]
80. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, December 21–23, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman (Randall D. Waldron, ed. Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 32–36). [back]
100. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, May 2, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman, October 18–30, 1867 letter fragment to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, which Edwin Haviland Miller dated October? 1866 (The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 1:293). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, October 16 or 23, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
109. "Washington: The Contest Between the Senate and the House on the Tenure-of-Office Bill—Great Reduction of the Clerical Force in the Departments—Discharge of Female Clerks," New York Times, March 28, 1869, 1. [back]
113. George Hutchinson and David Drews, "Racial Attitudes," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Available http://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_44.html. George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914 (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 101–103. [back]
114. Ed Folsom, "Native Americans (Indians)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). Available http://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_34.html. [back]
117. Moon and Sedgwick, 24–25. [back]
119. Roper, Now the Drum of War, 198. [back]
125. For Mattie Whitman's health and Hannah Whitman's thumb, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, November 4–December 15, 1868 (eleven letters) to Walt Whitman. [back]
126. For the death of Charlie Mann, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, November 2 or 3, 1868 and November 10, 1868 letters to Walt Whitman. For Margret Steers, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, February 18, 1869 and April 25–27, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]
128. For Thomas Jefferson Whitman's loans to George, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 4, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman. For Walt's loans to George, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 15 and March 17, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. For the agreement with Jeff as George understood it, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, June 23, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
132. Miller, Correspondence, 2:200–201, n. 25; 2:205, n. 41; 2:206, n. 44; 2:212, n. 61; 2:215, n. 70; 2:217, n. 74. [back]
133. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 29. [back]
145. Miller, Correspondence, 2:209, n. 47. [back]
146. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 29. [back]
148. Miller, Walt Whitman's Poetry, 47. [back]
154. Helen E. Price, "Reminiscences of Walt Whitman," ed. Joel Myerson, Whitman in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Memoirs, and Interviews by Friends and Associates, expanded ed. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000), 282. [back]
155. "Died," Camden Democrat, May 31, 1873, 3. [back]
159. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, September 25 or October 2, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. According to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, his sister-in-law Nancy Whitman would be "able enough to make a good living both for herself and the children, if she wasnt so dam'd lazy" (September 24, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]
163. Mattie Whitman, December 21, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman (Waldron, Mattie, 34–35). [back]
165. Allen, Solitary Singer, 304, 306, 308; Kaplan, Walt Whitman, 293–295; Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, 409–410, 486. [back]
173. Loving, "Introduction," Civil War Letters, 13, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, May? 1868 and June 25, 1868 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]
176. Manahatta Whitman, October 26, 1872 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]
177. Molinoff, "Whitman's 'Dear Sister Mary,'" Some Notes on Whitman's Family (Brooklyn: Comet Press, 1941), 3–9. Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections, 206–208. Loving, "Introduction," Civil War Letters, 10–11, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html. [back]
178. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, February 25, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Gohdes and Silver assign the year 1867? to Mary Van Nostrand's February 16 letter, but the correct year for Mary's letter is 1868 (Faint Clews & Indirections, 206–207). [back]
181. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote "grand masonic lodge," but Ansel Van Nostrand was probably a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows (May 28–June 1, 1868 letters to Walt Whitman). [back]
183. Loving's statement, that Mary "moved in with [Louisa]," is incorrect (Introduction, Civil War Letters, 10, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html). [back]
184. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, October 23, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman. James D. McCabe, Lights and Shadows of New York Life: or, the Sights and Sensations of the Great City (Philadelphia: National Publishing, 1872; digital reprint, 2012, Google Books), 306. [back]
185. Katherine Molinoff, Some Notes on Whitman's Family, 24–43. Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections, 209–212. [back]
189. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 10, 242, n. 1. [back]
203. "R. D. Wood & Co. Records,1858–1910," Historical Society of Pennsylvania, http://hsp.org/sites/default/files/legacy_files/migrated/findingaid1176wood.pdf. [back]
206. Loving, "Introduction," Civil War Letters, 33, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html. [back]
207. For quotations from many of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters to Walt during the war, see Roper, Now the Drum of War, 193–205. For George's housebuilding business, see 354–360. [back]
208. The discussion that follows is in debt to Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2008). [back]
209. Miller, Correspondence, 1:373. [back]
210. After the First Battle of Fredericksburg, George Washington Whitman's name appeared in the "Times of day before yesterday" (Thomas Jefferson Whitman, December 19, 1862 letter to Walt). George's name also appeared in the December 16, 1862 issue of the Herald (Allen, Solitary Singer, 281). [back]
211. Thomas Jefferson Whitman, August 4, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman, August 11, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. According to Miller, George Washington Whitman's July 23, 1863 letter "evidently had not reached the family" when Walt wrote on August 11 (Correspondence, 1:130, n. 96). [back]
221. Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26 (Summer 2008), 35–41, http://ir.uiowa.edu/wwqr/vol26/iss1/4/. Molinoff, Some Notes, 10–16. Randall Waldron, "Jessie Louisa Whitman: Memories of Uncle Walt, et al., 1939–1943," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 7 (Summer 1989), 20, http://dx.doi.org/10.13008/2153-3695.1231. Ted Genoways, "Jesse Whitman in 1861: A New Letter," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 21 (Fall 2003), 96–97, http://dx.doi.org/10.13008/2153-3695.1740. [back]
223. Walt Whitman, November 1861? letter (fragment) to Livingston Breese?, cited in Genoways, "Jesse Whitman in 1861," 96. Thomas Jefferson Whitman, February 6, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, August 31–September 3, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
226. Molinoff, Some Notes, 13. [back]
227. Molinoff, Some Notes, 12, n. 19. Quoted in Loving, Civil War Letters, 16, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html. [back]
228. Thomas Jefferson Whitman, December 15, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. Loving, "Introduction," Civil War Letters, 15, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/anc.02057.html. [back]
229. Waldron, "Jessie Louisa Whitman," 20. [back]
230. For a list of 567 known letters, see Ted Genoways, ed. "Calendar of Letters," Walt Whitman: The Correspondence (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004), 7:123–139. To reach 570, I add three subsequent letters reported by Ed Folsom ("Three Unpublished Whitman Letters to Harry Stafford and a Specimen Days Prose Fragment," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 25 [Spring 2008], 197–200, http://ir.uiowa.edu/wwqr/vol25/iss4/5). For possibly an additional letter fragment, see Kenneth M. Price, "Tolerance and Elimination in Whitman's 'land of all ideas': A Complex Prose Manuscript and a Previously Unknown Letter Fragment," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 27 (Summer/Fall 2009), 66–71, http://ir.uiowa.edu/wwqr/vol27/iss1/5/. [back]
231. Walt Whitman, January 26, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Miller, Correspondence, 2:192). [back]
233. Walt Whitman, April 30, 1873 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Miller, Correspondence, 2:217). [back]
235. Walt Whitman, I Sit and Look Out: Editorials from the Brooklyn Daily Times, ed. Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932). [back]
239. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, February 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Cf., Walt Whitman, February 9?, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (Miller, "A Checklist of Whitman's Lost Letters," Correspondence, 2:360). [back]
240. Ceniza,Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 22. Furness, 426–427. [back]
241. Luke Mancuso, "Leaves of Grass, 1871–1872 Edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. LeMaster and Kummings. Available http://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_25.html. [back]
243. Poems by Walt Whitman. Selected and Edited by William Michael Rossetti (London: Hotten, 1868). Available http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/foreign/british/index.html. [back]
246. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, May 23, 1866, June 7, 1866, January 27, 1867, December 15, 1867, November 30–December 3, 1868, December 28, 1868, January 19, 1869, October 7, 1871, March 4, 1873, April 5, 1873, and April 10–15, 1873 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]
247. Walt Whitman, September 8, 1891 letter to Hannah Heyde (Genoways, Correspondence, 7:240). [back]
248. Kaplan, Walt Whitman, 50. [back]
249. The full title of An Extensive Collection includes a scope or contents statement, as follows: comprising 3 Letters written to him in 1860 while he was away in Boston seeing to the Publication of the 1860 Edition of "Leaves of Grass" and a series of 141 Letters written to him at Washington during the years 1863–73, when he was engaged on Hospital work during the Secession War and as a Government Clerk. [back]
251. Miller, Correspondence, 2:365, n. 1. [back]
252. For example, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, September 15–26, 1871 letter to Walt Whitman. Miller does not include this letter from the Hanley collection in first edition of the Correspondence (1:369). Waldron dates the letter "about September 17, 1871," but Waldron's revised date is not published in the updated "Calendar of Letters" unless the "[September?]" letter is mistakenly assigned to the Trent collection (Correspondence, 1:369; Mattie, 72, n. 1; Miller, Correspondence, Second Supplement, 55; Genoways, Correspondence, 7:137). Likewise, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, September 5–23, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. Bucke on an accompanying slip of paper dates the letter November 1, 1863, and Miller dates the letter "about" September 3, 1863 (Correspondence, 1:144–145, n. 33). Berthold and Price propose approximate dates September 3, 1863 and September 10, 1863 (Dear Brother Walt, 72, n. 5; 75, n. 7). However, in the most recently updated "Calendar of Letters," this letter—probably—still has Miller's proposed date, "about" September 3, 1863 (Genoways, Correspondence, 7:126). [back]
256. For eleven letters I have revised the assigned range of dates by a few days, for twelve revised the assigned range a week or more, and for three revised the assigned range to a different month. In many cases I have replaced a range or questionable date with an exact one: seven letter dates are altered by a day or more, eleven by a week or more, three by a month or more, and two by a year or more. [back]
257. "[W]e have spaced Mrs. Whitman's sentences or sentence fragments" (Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections, 183). Miller applies his general policy—retaining spelling but inserting end punctuation—to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters in the first volume (Correspondence, 1:16). For Miller's punctuation of extended quotations, see Correspondence, 1: 308, n.16; 1:341, n.6; 2:20, n. 3, and 2:36, n. 9. [back]
258. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 21. [back]
259. Moon and Sedgwick cite Louisa's "rare close parenthesis" ("Confusion of Tongues," Breaking Bounds, 25–26). [back]
260. Some marks that resemble an opening parenthesis are not deliberately shaped but an accident of handwriting. [back]
261. Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections, 183. Moon and Sedgwick, "Confusion of Tongues," 29, n. 1. [back]
263. Ceniza, Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers, 21. [back]
264. Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews & Indirections, 201. [back]
270. In the two exceptions, I have consulted type transcriptions because portions of the letter manuscripts have crumbled away since the transcriptions were prepared (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 9–14, 1863 and March 19, 1863 letters to Walt Whitman). [back]