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Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, 13–14 November [1868]

 loc.00679.001.jpg 1868 My dear Brother

I have & still suffer so much agony I am like a child I have longed so for a letter I have seen one to Charlie1 with a few lines to me If I could see one of my own folks I see in that letter you wrote of comeing​ I suppose dear brother that is asking too much. I dont suffer now, only my hand,2 the fever is gone my head is clear my mind has not wandered only when I dozed I sometimes think you have written. I have been twharted​ or refused so many things I did not like to tell mother3 but first Charlie was very ugly He would not get a nurse, dear brothe​ I find I am to​ weak to write. Dr Thayer4  loc.00679.002.jpg I believe thinks all my thumb wont​ get well I feel very anxious about it. dear brother write to Dr Saml​ B Thayer & thank him first Charlie refused to go for him.

Saturday Nov 14. Dear broher​ I suffered dreadfully last night with my hand the Doctor did not come in yesterday I was greatly frightened about my hand & Charlie scolded me till I thought I should be thrown in a fever again I make very much trouble but I suffer too terribly to be scolded. I think I shall get well if I dont​ get fever but will suffer much my hand is much more painful you know I cant​ even be roused in bed on account of rais​  loc.00679.003.jpg raising my sick hand its​ hard to write Charlie last night brought me your letter to him I read it many times its​ strange he did not tell you how I asked so much for letter. you speak dear brother of knowing constanly​ about my illness. I know that Charlie wrote many times mornings without comeing​ in to see what kind of a night I had passed my strength fails. I cant​ say much but Charlie was kind to about about 2 or 3 days then after Doctor scolded him if I am to be sick much longer I do so want one of my own that belongs to me &  loc.00679.004.jpg feels interested if I only could I dont​ suppose Mattie5 being sick dear Mother could come and I am afraid it would be too hard for her I will ask Dr how long before I can get just a little relief from pain if he ever comes Charlie has gone for him I want you to write to him I have often spoken of you let dear brother of all things in I beg you to not let Charlie know I have wrote to you I run a great risk risk, write to me, at once perhaps I'll be better soon

my love Han

be pleasant to Charlie while I am sick on my account6

Ellen7 is very good to me8

I should suffer much if it was not for Ellen (Ellen)9


Dr just been in & has lanced my arm he says that is the trouble so perhaps I ll​ be better

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 Pennsylvania landscape painter, married Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823–1908), Walt Whitman's sister, and they lived in Burlington, Vermont. Charles Heyde often claimed to have been born in France, and he 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. In October and November 1868, Hannah suffered a painful infection in her left thumb, and the thumb was amputated by Dr. Thayer in December of 1868. [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. Dr. Samuel W. Thayer (1817?–1882) was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School. According to John Brooks Wheeler, Memoirs of a Small-Town Surgeon (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1936), 284–289, Thayer performed most of the operations in Burlington during the 1860s; "he kept no books and never sent a bill…he lived and died a poor man." Whitman inquired of him with regard to sister Hannah Whitman Heyde's health on December 8, 1868. [back]
  • 5. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]
  • 6. This portion of the letter begins upside-down on the bottom of the third page and continues up the left margin. [back]
  • 7. Ellen is a woman who was hired by the Heydes to assist Hannah; both Hannah and Charlie refer to her in letters up to November 1868. [back]
  • 8. This portion of the letter is written upside-down on the top margin of the third page. [back]
  • 9. This portion of the letter is written on the top margin of the first page. [back]
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