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Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 8–10 January 1891


Am sitting here in my den, & will write a line—Much the same as usual comfortable—good oak fire—cold weather—do not get out—busy myself writing or reading—alone most the time—have some friends come in occasionally—the enclosed is Jessie's2 letter I tho't you might care to read—poor J is getting composed—have just sent off a piece for publication3—will send it to you when printed—

Jan:9 night again—have had to put off sending this—will send it to-morrow afternoon—writing to day—this evn'grec'd​ some reprints f'm​ last photo portrait4 & will soon send you one—

Jan: 10 A M—have had my breakfast of buckwheat cakes & tea—feeling pretty well considering—looks out like snow—God bless you sister dear5

with love Walt Whitman  loc_zs.00152_large.jpg

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. 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 Whitman's letter, Jessie was in St. Louis. Her father Jeff, Whitman's favorite brother, had died unexpectedly from typhoid pneumonia on November 25, 1890. Jessie's letter to Whitman, referred to here, has not been located. By "Jessie is getting composed," Whitman is likely referring to Jessie's emotional composure after the loss of her father. 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]
  • 3. Whitman may be referring to his poem, "The Pallid Wreath," published in The Critic 18 (January 10, 1891): 18. [back]
  • 4. Whitman is likely referring to the photographs taken in Camden by Dr. John Johnston of Bolton, England, in July 1890. See The Walt Whitman Archive's Image Gallery, especially the three photographs of Walt Whitman and his nurse Warren Fritzinger (zzz.00117, zzz.00118, zzz.00119). [back]
  • 5. Whitman enclosed $2 in the letter (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). [back]
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