Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Charles L. Heyde to Walt Whitman, 27 February 1885

Date: February 27, 1885

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00402

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, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray

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Burlington Vermont.
Feby 27, 1885.

Bro Walt,

Han grows stronger daily:1 relishes her food, and consumes as much as she used when well: Yet she has very bad spells, which she rather encourages: This however is constitutional, and for which, her good old deceased friend, Dr. S. P. Thayer,2 pronounced, irremedial, by medicine—Mr Heyde, he used to say, We know of no medicine that can cure it: still he always sympathised her, kindly, tenderly, and declared her to be, physicaly a perfect woman.

She has omitted taking bromide, now, for 8 nights. If she could be persuade to desisted from rubbing a most pernicious coloring ointment, into her scalp, with an old tooth brush, her improvement would be greater. She denied the practice, but I have observed, from behind her chair, a complete scab allmost or the blood starting from the irritation:

Christ, O! Christ! It makes me religious, and discouraged with women. Why gray hair is fashionable: and then cork screw curls, drawn over her forehead to cover wrinkles.


Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a French-born landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde 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 Heyde was frequently sick, but the exact nature of her ailment in 1885 is unknown. [back]

2. Dr. Samuel W. Thayer (1817?–1882) was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School. According to John Brooks Wheeler, Memoirs of a Small-Town Surgeon (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1936), 284–289, Thayer performed most of the operations in Burlington during the 1860s; "he kept no books and never sent a bill…he lived and died a poor man." Whitman inquired of him with regard to sister Hannah Whitman Heyde's health on December 8, 1868[back]


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