Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles L. Heyde to Walt Whitman, 19 February 1885

Date: February 19, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00401

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Stephanie Blalock, and Marie Ernster

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Burlington Vermont.
Feby 19, 1885.

Bro Walt.

It is night, clear [a]nd cold: Han1 has just left my room; gone to [t]he east apartment: She [p]refers much to be alone. Cannot see visitors;2 does [n]ot talk much; wearies her; so does reading: must not read aloud to her; or narrate any thing from newspapers: occasionaly [b]reaks out into some small [g]ossip, furtively: Is weak: too much so to dress up. [L]anguishes on the sofa, or by the fire, seated on a pillow, in a tall rocking [c]hair: sometimes with a [b]lanket around her, indian [f]ashion: window partly raised, [f]reshning the room: has been about since 9 o'clock; [a]ttended some to dinner. prepared her own supper oysters stewed; baked apples; indian pudding, milk; prunes; takes no tea or coffee: She is come in again: sitting down by the stove: I am writing to Walt: says to give her love to him; wants to see him very much: had lette[r] from Lou:3 yesterday; repor[ts] you looking very well; wh[ich?] gave her great satisfaction. Lou sent her some time ago a box of underclothing, at my suggestion: She was badly off: I purchased a garment hose; could not wear it: could not endure a woman dress maker, to handle her; make such things for he [r] was too nervous. She has now numerous blank[ets?] and bed comforters; and sleeps warm; bed warmed, between blankets. sleeps some; better; improves: does not feel her heartbeat in her brain so much; as she expresses it: does not use so much bromide: it is hurtfull to her: affects her seriously the next day: would craze her if she persisted: it is given to make her sleep; at too great a risk: Doctor was in last night: said she was not getting better very fast, but would [a?]certainly get well: She [n]ever can be as she was: look as well: be as strong. She has changed greatly: her neck and breast has shrunk; her face too: her eyes at times are [s]unken, glassy; her back is weak: her hair [g]rows—[and?] becomes thinner very grey. Yet her voice is natural: her step firmer. When this hard cold winter is past, she may recuperat[e]. She tried to sew a little to day: I was away 3 hours this morning, to [Union?] to get subscribers to my picture sale: cruel way to get a livinng: 60 dollars in frames; months of work on pictures: shall distribute them next month: I meet wit[h] much sympathy among people but times are hard: The landscape is truly [enshrouding?] a white country, snow [enveloped?], hill, valley, lake and river: Lou is to purchas[e] two paintings: will help me much. Geo4 sent a check: he reserved for Han: It has cost me over 200 dollars, this winte[r] new stove, extra fires: frames, groceries, etc—have not recieved a line from the girls.

C. L. H.

Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a Pennsylvania landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde often claimed to have been born in France, and he was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. For more information about Heyde, see Steven Schroeder, "Heyde, Charles Louis (1822–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde (1823–1908) was the fourth child of Walter and Louisa Whitman and Walt Whitman's youngest sister. Hannah was named for her paternal grandmother, Hannah Brush Whitman (1753–1834), and her mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873). Although Walt Whitman had a close relationship with his younger brother Jeff Whitman, Hannah was his favorite, most beloved sibling. Until she married, Hannah lived at home with her parents and her brothers. Educated at the Hempstead Academy, Hannah taught school in rural Long Island. On March 23, 1852, Hannah married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. It is possible that Walt introduced Hannah to Charles. In August 1852 the Heydes departed for Vermont. The first decade of their marriage was marked by constant moving from boarding houses to hotels, mostly in rural Vermont, as Heyde sought out vantage points for his landscape paintings. In 1864 the Heydes settled in Burlington, purchasing a house on Pearl Street. After Hannah's marriage and relocation to Vermont, Mother Whitman became Hannah's faithful correspondent; Walt also kept in touch, sending letters and editions of Leaves of Grass after publication. Hannah faced several health crises during her marriage, partly due to the ongoing trauma of emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner violence that she experienced. In the 1880s and 1890s Heyde increasingly had difficulty earning enough to cover household expenses; in addition, he may have become an alcoholic. He repeatedly asked Whitman for funds to cover their expenses. Whitman sent both Heyde and Hannah small amounts of money. After Heyde died in 1892, Hannah remained in Burlington, living in their house on Pearl Street until her death in 1908. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Hannah Heyde was frequently sick, but the exact nature of her ailment in 1885 is unknown. [back]

3. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Whitman's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. Their son, Walter Orr Whitman, was born in 1875 but died the following year. A second son was stillborn. Whitman lived in Camden, New Jersey, with George and Louisa from 1873 until 1884, when George and Louisa moved to a farm outside of Camden and Whitman decided to stay in the city. Louisa and Whitman had a warm relationship during the poet's final decades. For more, see Karen Wolfe, "Whitman, Louisa Orr Haslam (Mrs. George) (1842–1892)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was Walt's brother and the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He was ten years Walt Whitman's junior. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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