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Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 13 December 1889

 loc_zs.00369.jpg Camden1

Have been out this sunny mild day down to what they call the Ship Yard nearly a mile off & am feeling fairly—Nothing very new—I am sitting here alone in my room—past 6—dark—no winter here yet of any acc't​ have sold a little poemet3 wh'​ I will send you as soon as printed.4

Brother Walt  loc_zs.00370.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. This postal card is addressed: Mrs: H L Heyde | 21 Pearl Street | Burlington | Vermont. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | DEC 13 | 8PM | 89. [back]
  • 3. Whitman is referring to the poem ultimately titled "A Christmas Greeting." In his December 3, 1889, letter to Richard Maurice Bucke the poet refers to the poem as "the little 'Northern Star-Group to a Southern' (welcome to Brazilian Republic)." This would become the poem's subtitle: "From a Northern Star-Group to a Southern. 1889–'90." See also "[A North Star]," a manuscript draft of this poem, in the Catalog of the Walt Whitman Literary Manuscripts in The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]
  • 4. According to Whitman, "A Christmas Greeting" was rejected by Harper's Weekly but accepted by the "McClure Syndicate" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, December 9, 1889). In mid November 1889, Pedro II (1825–1891), emperor of Brazil, was overthrown by a military coup. The country became The Republic of the United States of Brazil, with a general serving as its first President. Whitman told Traubel that the poem was "a sort of handshake and hug, to show them we were here, met them in the democratic spirit, warmed to something more than mere formality. It is a trifle, put together in that sense, no other" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, November 21, 1889). A printer's copy exists in the The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) with Whitman's pencilled corrections, yet no printed copy has been located. Whitman later told Traubel that the poem was not printed in the United States because of the line "More shining than the Cross, more than the Crown"—which, in Whitman's view, caused great "timidity" and ultimately "deterred the orthodox journalists" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, January 29, 1890). [back]
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