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Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, 4 March [1873]

 loc.00673.001.jpg My Dear Brother

How are you this morning.—I wish I was where I could come in and see you and do something for you—that has been a trouble to us, that we cant​ be of the least benefit to you now when you are ill.2

You dont know anything about how bad and sorry I felt about your illness

You have been exceedingly kind and thoughtful dear brother to write to me, that first letter was very welcome I was wonderfully glad to get it, a little afraid you was hardly yet strong enough  loc.00673.002.jpg to write.—Dear Mother3 too has been kind about writing I expect a line every day I am anxious to hear,

I have not heard for eleven days—I do so hope to hear the good news that you are better, and are able to go out a little

I feel glad when its​ bright pleasant weather I think maybe you will gain faster,—I know my dear brother you have a good deal of patience and that you do not easily get discouraged and that too is in your favour.—You have a good many friends I know, and have every attention, every little thing  loc.00673.003.jpg done for your comfort that can be done, do you not Walt.—Still it would seem better, to us, if some of us was near you.

Has George4 been to see you I suppose he has though

And dear brother Jeffy5 too I know as soon as he can think of anything he will go to see you. I should like to hear from him and the dear little girls6

Do you remember Walt some years ago, what a bad time I had with my back (I think it was neuralgie​ of the spine) anyway I was well only my back I could not walk three steps for many weeks & could sit up all day, & when I could walk about & even go up & down stairs I was a good deal more than half bent over & I was bent over so nearly as bad for more than a year,—I only speak of it so you will know how much time will do, my back is now as strong as it ever was in the world


I do so want you to get well Walt, I shall be so happy when you are strong as ever again, and persons tell me you will be, a good many inquire about you.—

You know your room here is always ready. I do hope when it​ warm weather in June you will come. I remember you liked the mountain air here and I know it will be good for you And I have been thinking if dear Mother too could bear the journey, for it would seem just like home to you then, and I do not think it safe to stay in Washington like you did last summer, & Charlie has a great wish to go away to the Adirodacks7 & other places, & its a great bother to leave the house alone with me, & I would do everything in my power for you, dear brother

I don't know why I have not written to you before, I wish I had something cheerful to tell you, things are just the same here I only want you to be well again I do like that young fellow that is so kind to you, Peter Doyle8 I shall always remember him

Good bye my dear brother. I send you a great deal of love9 Han

Charlie also sends love

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 dates this letter 1873, a date confirmed by the concerns that Hannah expresses about Whitman's health. [back]
  • 2. Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke on January 23, 1873. His friends in Washington, D.C. helped to care for him: John Burroughs, Peter Doyle, and Ellen O'Connor. See Whitman's letters to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated January 26, 27, 29, and 31, 1873, in which he describes his illness and gradual recovery. [back]
  • 3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was Walt's brother and the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He was ten years Walt Whitman's junior. For more information on George Washington Whitman, 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]
  • 5. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was Walt Whitman's favorite brother. As a civil engineer, Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized figure. For more on Jeff, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957), the daughters of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
  • 7. The Adirondacks, a mountain range in northeast New York State, border Lake Champlain on its west side, and can be seen from Burlington looking southwest across the lake. [back]
  • 8. Peter Doyle (1843–1907) was one of Walt Whitman's closest comrades and lovers, and their friendship spanned nearly thirty years. The two met in 1865 when the twenty-one-year-old Doyle was a conductor in the horsecar where the forty-five-year-old Whitman was a passenger. Despite his status as a veteran of the Confederate Army, Doyle's uneducated, youthful nature appealed to Whitman. Although Whitman's stroke in 1873 and subsequent move from Washington to Camden limited the time the two could spend together, their relationship rekindled in the mid-1880s after Doyle moved to Philadelphia and visited nearby Camden frequently. After Whitman's death, Doyle permitted Richard Maurice Bucke to publish the letters Whitman had sent him. For more on Doyle and his relationship with Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Doyle, Peter," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 9. The signature and the postscript of this letter appear upside-down at the top of the first page, above the date. [back]
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