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Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, 14 May [1889]


Do you know Walt dear your letter has done me a world of good.2 I was out by the gate looking out for the postman, see him when he was way down the street—I was glad, about as glad as I could be.

And to think my dearest brother you have been out. it​ is wonderful good news to me. Its​ splendid I feel Walt dear as if I could not say enough about it. Its​ so good to know.

It does me good too.

So glad you wrote to tell me about the, c h a i r3 and the jaunt and all,4its​ nice—


(It is sad about Mr​ OConnor​ death,5 he was great and good (his wonderful letter)—and Susie Langdon,6 a clerk, under him in Washington used to tell me about him). He was a true friend.

—The country is very beautiful now. trees​ leaved out some blossoms, Spring is two weeks earlier here than usual no Lilacks​ even budded here yet.

I am trying to clean house, Walt dear, I do it all myself, but I take my time I have to.—my carpets are all taken up down stairs​ (done cleaning up stairs​ glad to be able to work even my way) Ime​ slow enough, but do pretty well glad to stop a little while  loc_tb.00212.jpgto write a line to you—

Cant​ think of anything Walt dear. but​ your being better. and​ being able to be out. I want you to see lots of comfort my dearest brother. you​ must not worry about anything—your letter is such a comfort to me I shall be able to work better I thank you with all my heart for your gift, you are very very good to me, always.

cant​ begin to tell you how much I think of your being so kind nor how much good it does me,


I take comfort too Walt dear, in your having such good friends. Hope you will be out to day​

Wont​ write much to day​ my work in the kitchen is waiting for me, (but that dont matter a mite)

I send ever so much love my dearest brother, Han

When you see Lou7 and George8 will you give my love to them, please.

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. The Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter 1889 in red ink at the top of the first page. Bucke's date is consonant with Hannah's reference to Walt's wheel chair, and to her comment about the death of Whitman's friend and defender William D. O'Connor on May 10, 1889. Tuesday fell on May 14 in 1889; so, this date is confirmed. [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. 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. [back]
  • 4. In a letter to Richard Maurice Bucke dated May 11–12, 1889, Whitman mentions that he "went out in the wheel chair yesterday afternoon & was probably out an hour and a half—everything work'd​ well—the chair is a success & sits and goes easy." [back]
  • 5. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) first met Whitman in 1860 while Whitman was in Boston correcting the proofs for the third edition of Leaves of Grass. O'Connor, a poet and short story writer, had been approached by the Boston publishers Thayer & Eldridge to write a novel. When Whitman came to Washington D.C. to find his brother George two years later, he stayed with the O'Connors and subsequently boarded with them for a few months. O'Connor became one of Whitman's good friends, and wrote The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication (1866) to defend Whitman when he was fired from his position as a clerk in the Indian Affairs Bureau because his supervisor found Leaves of Grass objectionable. See Jerome Loving, Walt Whitman's Champion: William Douglas O'Connor (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1978). For more on O'Connor, see O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]
  • 6. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 7. 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. For more information, 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]
  • 8. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the seventh child of Walter and Louisa Whitman. George learned to read and write as a pupil under his older brother Walt (who briefly served as a schoolteacher) in Long Island, and worked as a carpenter prior to his military service during the Civil War. When the war ended, he became a pipe inspector for the City of Camden and the New York Metropolitan Water Board. For more on George's life, 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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