Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Heyde, Charles Louis (1822–1892)
Author:
Schroeder, Steven
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Charles L. Heyde, a French-born landscape painter, married Whitman's sister Hannah in 1852. He achieved local notoriety in Vermont as a poet as well as a landscape painter. Late in her life, Hannah recalled having eloped with Heyde some thirteen years before their marriage. They lived in several Vermont communities before purchasing a house and settling in Burlington in 1865. By all accounts, their life together was stormy, and there are numerous references in the Whitman correspondence to the tensions that existed not only between Heyde and Hannah, but also between Heyde and every other member of the family. Even Walt disliked him, referring to him as "worse than bed bugs" (Whitman 135). The feeling was mutual, as evidenced by later reports that, when Whitman visited Hannah in Burlington in 1872 (when he was selected to deliver a commencement poem at Dartmouth), Heyde moved temporarily to his studio to avoid staying in the same house with him. Though relations thawed slightly toward the end of Whitman's life, Heyde was always more of an aggravation than an inspiration. Referring to Hannah as his "favorite sister" (qtd. in Molinoff 24), Whitman felt the pain of her unhappy relationship with particular intensity. It is likely that he also felt some responsibility for having introduced Heyde to Hannah in the first place, and his correspondence with his mother reflects an added dimension of concern due to the strain Hannah's unhappy marriage put on her. Heyde became increasingly delusional and despondent in his later years and was committed to the Vermont State Hospital at Waterbury in October 1892, one month before his death.

Bibliography

Molinoff, Katherine. Some Notes on Whitman's Family. Brooklyn: Comet, 1941.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 1. New York: New York UP, 1961.


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