Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 22 August 1880
Date: August 22, 1880
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918), 193–194. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.04049
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Eder Jaramillo, Grace Thomas, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
Aug. 22, '80.
My Dearest Friend:
I have had all the welcome papers with accounts of your doings,1 and to-day a nice long letter from Mrs. Whitman,2 which I much enjoyed, giving me better account of your health again, & of your great enjoyment of the water travel through Canada. So I hope, spite of drawbacks, you will return to Camden for the winter quite set up in body, as well as full of delightful memories. If only we were at 22nd St. to welcome you back & talk it all over at tea! Ah, those evenings! My friends told me I looked ten years younger when I came back from America than when I went. And I am not yet quite re-acclimatized; & what with missing the sunshine & working a little too hard, was feeling quite knocked up: so Bee3 insisted on my coming down, or rather up, here to stay with some very kind & dear friends. The house stands all alone on a great heath-covered hill, and below & around are endless coppices, so that you step from the lawn into [a] winding wood-path, along which I wander by the hour: and from my window I look over much such a view as we had at Round Hill Hotel, Northampton, this time two years, only that with the soft haze that is so often spread over our landscape, the distant hill looks more ghostly in the moonlight. My friend is a noble, large-hearted, capable woman, who devotes all her life and energies to keeping alive an invalid husband; and he well deserves her care, for he has a beautiful nature, too, & their mutual affection is unbounded. He is just ordered by the doctors to leave the home they have made for themselves up here—which is as lovely as it can be—& to spend two years at least in Italy. So it is a sorrowful time with them—they have no children, but have adopted a little niece. Our new house is just ready & we are daily expecting our furniture from America. Herby4 has been working as usual, making good progress & has just done a beautiful little drawing for the new edition of his father's book. Bee, you will be glad to hear, has decided to continue her medical studies & is going to be assistant to a lady doctor at Edinburgh, who is to pay her sufficient salary to cover all remaining expenses. Meanwhile we have got her at home for a few weeks to help us through with the move in, and a sad pinch it will be to part with her again. Giddy5 has been paying a delightful visit to some friends of Carpenter's6 near Leeds—a Quaker family—the daughter very lovable & admirable. We do not forget the Staffords7 nor they us. Mont. often sends Herby a magazine or a token. Love to them when you see them, & to Mr. & Mrs. Whitman & Hattie8 & Jessie9 & kindest remembrance to Dr. Bucke.10 Send me a line soon, dear Friend—I think of you continually & know that somewhere & somehow we are to meet again, & that there is a tie of love between us that time & change & death itself cannot touch.
1. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of 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 moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
2. Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou," married Walt's brother George Whitman on April 14, 1871. [back]
3. Beatrice Carwardine Gilchrist (1854–1881) was the second child (and first daughter) of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring physician, Beatrice took the needed preparatory classes but was barred (as were all women) from becoming a medical student in England. As a result, she attended the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. She held positions as a physician in Berne, Switzerland, and later Edinburgh before committing suicide by fatally ingesting hydrocyanic acid in 1881. [back]
4. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
5. Grace Gilchrist Frend (1859–1947) was one of Anne Gilchrist's four children and Herbert's sister. She became a contralto. She was the author of "Walt Whitman as I Remember Him" (Bookman 72 [July 1927], 203–205). [back]
6. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [1906–1996], 1:160). For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
7. The family of Harry Stafford, a young man who Whitman befriended in 1876 in Camden. Harry's parents, George and Susan Stafford, were tenant farmers at White Horse Farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey, where Whitman visited them on several occasions. For more on Whitman and the Staffords, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M." Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, eds. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 685. [back]
8. Mannahatta Whitman was the first daughter of Walt Whitman's brother, Jeff Whitman, and his wife Martha Mitchell Whitman. [back]
9. Jessie Louisa Whitman was the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman. [back]
10. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]