Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, 2 January [1879]

Date: January 2, [1879]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00663

Source: Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde Papers, 1853–1892, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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 Kinnaman, Nicole Gray, Marie Ernster, Amanda J. Axley, and Kassie Jo Baron

page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4

Thursday, Jan 2.

Dearest Brother

I want to thank you again for your kindness,—your kind remembrance of me. Christmas did me good, for at times I feel very friendless I only wish I could do something for you.

Walt dear I think too much of you to annoy you in any way. I think so much about home such a wish for you to get quite well. I should never forgive myself, it would be the worst trouble I ever had, if I said annything to hurt you in the least speaking or complaining don't mend things, and I write so seldom. I should at least write a cheerfull letter, but Charlie1 has just come home from down town says he has been writing to you (perhaps he has not I dont know whether to believe him or not) I am so uneasy I dont know what to do. I am so afraid he has said something that will worry you dear brother I know he does write fearful letters, every word the most untrue and unjust & he's written a great many for I have opened and read them. I only want you to know that he cannot or does not say one word of truth ever or at any time, when he speaks of me. I know he writes to his sisters & others very badly of me indeed, and have been told that he talks ill of me to any one and everyone that will listen. (he to day received a New Years present a box of hankerchiefs from his sister & niece, & letter of great sympathy for him in his unhappy home. they think it might do him good to come to them &c, two hankerchiefs were for me, they are nice, but I cant appreciate them as I would, if they knew me as I am.)

Dearest Brother I want you to know that I write to day feeling very unhappy and anxious, for fear Charlie has written something disagreable , if he has written & you will mind it, you would understand why if you had

Dear Brother in my hurry I made a mistake, thought this was written on

I hope with my whole heart that I have not said anything to make you feel bad for a moment, you must not that I could not endure. Generally I get along well as most persons, to day I am worried and excited, probably if I [waited?] till to morrow I should write differently. Next time dear brother I will write cheerfully, may be when you get this I will feel happy again. I have thought often if I should die [someday?], I should not like Charlie to say I was crazy. (I am likely to live as he) & you not know his way I used to be too sensitive to speak, but lately so many have spoken to me of it. its too absurd to mind I know2 I do mind it. I have some comforts. I think a great deal of my home with all my troubles

I have only spoke of myself & could not help it today

Good bye

Give my love to all

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).


1. 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). [back]

2. The letter continues upside–down at the top of the page [back]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.