Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 22 December 1890

Date: December 22, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04779

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, 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.

Related item: Whitman opened an envelope in which he had received a previous letter from an unknown correspondent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1890, and used the blank inside of the envelope as writing paper in order to compose this letter to his sister Hannah Whitman Heyde.

Contributors to digital file: Maire Mullins and Stephanie Blalock

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Dec: 22 18901

Dear sister Han

Merry Christmas to you first thing, from my heart and soul—Nothing very new with me—fine sunny to-day, (just after noon) and I want to get out if possible in wheel chair2—Send you enclosed 10—you might give one of the 5s to C3—haven't heard any thing further f'm Jessie4 f'm St Louis since—Y'rs recd—Love to you, sister dear—& God bless you—

Y'r affectionate brother
Walt Whitman

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. In March 1884, Whitman purchased a house at 328 Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. He would live in this house until his death on March 26, 1892. [back]

2. Whitman mentioned the idea of a wheelchair to Horace Traubel in April 1889: "'Isn't there a wheel-chair that you can work with a handle, so and so?'" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, April 5, 1889). Whitman received a wheelchair the following month. Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase "a strong suitable out-door chair" for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889. Hannah comments on Walt's wheelchair in her letter to him dated May 14, 1889[back]

3. Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter from Pennsylvania, was Hannah's husband. Heyde often claimed to have been born in France. 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]

4. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. At the time of this letter, Jessie was in St. Louis. Her father Jeff, Whitman's favorite brother, had died unexpectedly from typhoid pneumonia on November 25, 1890. Whitman's use of the dash after the word "since" in this letter refers to Jeff's death the month before. For more information, see Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 34. [back]


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