Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, [25 December 1885]

Date: [December 25, 1885]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00665

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: Kelsey Barkis, Maddie Perrin, Maire Mullins, Stephanie Blalock, Kassie Jo Baron, and Amanda J. Axley

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Burlington Vt.
Christmas Afternoon1

My Dear Brother

I thank you with all my heart you are so kind I dont know what to say.

I was sitting here all alone last night, when your letter came—I thought it was pretty nice.—went to bed feeling happy as anything feel first rate to day —have had a good deal to make me feel cheery—. your letter & presant and Lou2 sent me just as nice a dress as I want with all the trimings. & pair of knit shoes and a nice letter. All as good as good can be.

I hope, know you are having a good Christmas Walt dear for you spoke of going out to dinner, and its a pleasant day, not very cold the weather has been unuasuly mild & pleasant this winter I went down street yesterday just to see the sights, did not go in a single place, it has been an unusual lively Chrs. here, fine sleighing.—one could hardly cross Church St. yesterday for the sleighs Burlington has improved, changed much, since you was here,3 many fine buildings. all the principal St. graded & flagged Pearl (our street) recently.—

Mrs. Rose4 one of my near neighbors just, now, came to the window and wants me to come in, to see her Chrs presents.

Am all alone this afternoon C.5 gone away somewheres.—his lottery6 came off a week ago, I believe he is going to dispose of more pictures same way.

Glad you sent me the Herald.7

Hope you will have a happy New Year, Walt dear.

If you should see Lou before I write to her, will you tell her, I was wonderfully pleased with her sending me the things.—

I think you are all very good to me.

I must thank you again, Walt, a thousand, thousand times.

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. This letter dates to December 25, 1885. Hannah refers to "all the principal streets in Burlington being graded & flagged Pearl (our street) recently." According to the Twenty-First Annual Report of the City of Burlington, Vermont (1885), "The heaviest expense of the year has been caused by the extensive repairs on Pearl, Union and St. Paul streets. Pearl street has been brought to grade from the Ravine to Prospect street, and has been curbed and guttered from Church street to Prospect street, excepting one side of the street between Union and Willard street. With the exception of two blocks the flagging is five feet wide" (Twenty-First Annual Report of the City of Burlington, Vermont for the year ending December 31, 1885 [Burlington, VT: R.S. Styles, 1886], 61. [back]

2. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. They moved to Camden in 1872. Walt Whitman lived with them from 1873–1884. 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]

3. Whitman visited Burlington in June 1872, as an extension of a trip he took to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to deliver the commencement poem. Whitman wrote "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" for the occasion, and the poem was first published in the New York Herald on June 26, 1872. See Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 442. [back]

4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

5. This is Hannah's abbreviation for her husband, Charles (Heyde). [back]

6. Heyde followed the example set by the Art Unions in the mid-nineteenth century of holding a lottery to sell his paintings. The Art Union would charge subscribers to belong to its organization each year, and at the end of the year a drawing would be held. Winners would receive original works of art that the Art Union had purchased. More than likely Heyde charged a nominal fee for his lotteries. See William H. Gerdts, Jr., Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey (New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand, 1964), 84. [back]

7. The New York Herald, a daily newspaper, was established by James Gordon Bennett on May 16, 1835. The Herald (published from 1835 to 1924), was a "popular, cheap, mass circulation newspaper . . . the most successful and widely circulated newspaper in mid-nineteenth-century America." See James Crouthamel, Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse UP, 1989), 9. [back]


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