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Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 8 June 1891


Afraid you are having a sick time of it, dear sister2—think ab't​ it all—very quiet here the last two days—few visitors & then I send excuses—eat my meals fairly—just had a good little broil'd​ mutton chop for my supper (Still eat no dinner)—$5 enclosed—Sunny but cool—will send you a better acc't​ of the birth-day supper3 the young fellows gave me, soon as I get copies. Best love & God bless you—

y'r​ affectionate brother

Walt Whitman

do you remember who James Townsend, N Y.,​ was? He is dead (of shock—there was a fire near & he was hurriedly removed)—he was very old—good—was Priscilla's husband4—mother's cousin—P. is dead—also John Avery5

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. Whitman had received a letter from Charles Heyde, Hannah's husband, dated June 2, 1891. Heyde writes, "Hannah has not be as well–fears that you are not so well. grieves that she cannot write to you with her own hand–appreciates you intensely." [back]
  • 3. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, May 31, 1891, was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g​ —ab't​ 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]
  • 4. According to Wesley Raabe, "Priscilla or Lillie (Mead) Townsend was probably Walt Whitman's second cousin, the daughter of Sally (Williams) Mead, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's aunt. Priscilla's husband James H. Townsend was a clerk in the New York 'Hall of Records.'" See the letter from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman of April 3, 1873. [back]
  • 5. John W. Avery (1814–1891) was the son of Clara Williams Avery. Clara was the sister of Walt Whitman's maternal grandmother Naomi (Amy) Williams Van Velsor. John and his wife Sarah Banning Avery (1814–1886) lived in Brooklyn, where John worked as a grocer. During the American Civil War, Avery was a colonel of the Eighth Regiment of the New York State Militia, known as the Washington Grays. For more information, see his obituary, "Death of Colonel John W. Avery," Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 26, 1891), 6. [back]
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