Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Helena de Kay Gilder to Walt Whitman, 20 November 1880

Date: November 20, 1880

Editorial notes: The annotation, "from Mr & Mrs Gilder New York (Gilder you know is a sort of chief literary man now in Scribner's)," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "see notes Aug 9 1888 also 10th Aug.," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02221

Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Vince Moran, Anthony Dreesen, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein



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Staten Island
"Kaywood"
Nov. 20th, 1880

Dear Mr. Whitman,

We were so delighted at receiving your books1—& from you. We have always intended owning them & were only waiting to return to our little house in town. As we have now a volume belonging to Mr. Burroughs2—Your poems have a great hold on us—& grow more & more to us in value.

In London last winter we saw the Gilchrists3 several times & of course talked of you. Mrs. Gilchrist spoke most enthusiastically & affectionately of you & Mme. Modjeska4 who was acting there wanted us to remind you of her having had the pleasure of meeting you—She is making a great success.

We read some of your poems to a group of people—artists etc., in London who were all intensely interested & impressed—One, Alfred Hunt,5 the landscape painter, was much moved over some of the descriptions of nature. The mocking bird & the pine trees especially. Richard talked about you with William M. Rossetti,6 your good friend, & others who all were anxious to hear of you. Richard is very desirous to know whether you got some of your poems, done into Provençal, by W.C. Bonaparte Wyse.7 Would you write a line of acknowledgement to the latter, to be forwarded through Richard. Mr. Wyse would value it very greatly.

Mr. Burroughs & Richard were camping out in September & there was a great deal of talk of W.W. under the pines beside the little Ulster Co. lake—

I know you love children and I wish I could show you my little boy, of whom I am very proud.

In February we will be again in our house & hope to see you there once more.

With renewed thanks I am dear Mr Whitman one of your sincerest admirers


Helena de Kay Gilder

We are both most obliged to you & I endorse the foregoing.


R.W.G.8


Notes:

1. Helena de Kay Gilder (1846–1916), the wife of poet and editor Richard Watson Gilder, was a painter as well as the founder of the Society of American Artists and the Art Student's League. She worked closely with her husband, designing the text illustrations for all of his books of poetry. [back]

2. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a lifelong correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885), widow to Alexander Gilchrist, and her four children Beatrice, Grace, Percy and Herbert. Anne Gilchrist wrote one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she visited Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. Anne's son Herbert (1857–1914) was a painter and shared his mother's fascination for Whitman. For more on Whitman and the Gilchrists, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows." [back]

4. Helena Modjeska (1840–1909) was a well-known Polish actress, particularly famous for playing Shakespearean heroines. In 1878, Whitman met Modjeska while visiting with Richard Watson Gilder. The poet later said of the actress, "She is a fascinating, bright woman. I have never seen her act—saw her at Gilder's, in New York—handsome, agreeable, magnetic" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, [Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964], 5:466). [back]

5. Alfred William Hunt (1830–1896) was an artist and the son of Andrew Hunt, an English landscape painter. Andrew attempted to push his son away from painting, but with the encouragement of John Ruskin, Alfred continued to exhibit his landscape paintings throughout his life and became known for his eye for details. [back]

6. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868 Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to F.S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. See the letter from Richard W. Gilder to Whitman of October 1, 1879. William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse (1826–1892) was an Irish poet living in France. He had translated Whitman's "I Heard You Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ" and "Reconciliation" into Provençal, a minority dialect of southern France. His parents were Sir Thomas Wyse, an Irish politician, and Marie Bonaparte, a French author. Bonaparte-Wyse was a great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was married to Ellen Linzee Prout (1842–1925). For more about Wyse and his Whitman translations, see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 215–220. [back]

8. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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