Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 2 August 1879
Date: August 2, 1879
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), 183–185. 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.04211
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
August 2d, '79.
I am sitting in my room with my dear little grandson, the sweetest little fellow you ever saw, asleep beside me.1 Giddy2 and Norah3 (my 3d daughter) are gone into Durham to do some shopping. Bee is up in London on her way to Berne in Switzerland, where she has finally decided to complete her medical studies. Herby4 is, I think, staying with Eustace Conway5 at Hammersmith just now. He has been spending a week at Brighton with Edward Carpenter6 & his family—but I will leave him to tell his own news. We are lodging in this little village with its red-tiled roofs & gray stone walls, lying among wooded hills, corn fields, meadows, and collieries on the banks of the Weir, for the sake of being near Percy & his wife. He is superintending here the erection of some kilns for making the peculiar kind of basic firebricks needed in his dephosphorization process. Durham Cathedral, which was mainly built soon after the Norman conquest, is in sight, crowning a wooded hill that rises abruptly from the river-side. It looks as solid, majestic, venerable as the rocks & hills—the interior is of wonderful grandeur & beauty. When you enter one of these cathedrals you are tempted to say architecture is a lost art with us moderns so far as sublimity is concerned—except in vast engineering works. You would not dignify the Weir with the name of a river in America—it is no bigger than Timber Creek—but it winds about so capriciously through the picturesque little city as to make almost an island of the hill on which the castle & cathedral stand & to need three great solid stone bridges within a quarter of a mile of each other, & with its steep wooded sides carrying nature right into the heart of the old town. But the rainy season (we have scarcely seen the sun since we have been in England & I believe it is the same in France & Italy) and the great depression in trade, especially the coal & iron, which chiefly concerns this district, seem to cast a gloom over everything. There are whole rows of colliers' cottages in this village empty. Where they go to no one knows, but as soon as the collieries reopen they will all reappear. We often meet Colliers returning from work—they look as if they had just emerged from Hades, poor fellows—their faces black as soot—their lean, bowed legs bare—I believe the mines are hot here; they work with little on—but they are really the cleanest of all workmen, as they take a bath every night on their return before supping. The speech here is almost like a foreign tongue to any one from the south or middle of England. I wonder if you have yet read Dr. Bucke's book.7 It is about the only thing I have read since my return. It suggests deeply interesting trains of thought.
I wonder if you are at Camden, taking your daily trips across the ferry & strolls up Chestnut St. I hardly realized till I left it how dearly I love America—great sunny land of hope and progress—or how my whole life has been enriched with the human intercourse I had there. Give my love to those of our friends whom you know & tell them not to forget us. I have had a long letter from Emma Lazarus.8 I suppose Hattie9 and Jessie10 are spending their holidays at Camden & that Hattie has pretty well done with school. We have been chiefly busy with needlework since we came—preparing dear Bee for Berne. I miss her sadly—had quite hoped we should have all been together at Paris this winter—but it seems the course is much longer & more arduous [there]. We spent a week in Edinburgh before we came on here. It is by far the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The journey between it and Berwick-on-Tweed lies through the richest & best cultivated farm land in Britain—the sea sparkling on one side of us & these fertile fields dotted with splendid flocks & herds—with large comfortable-looking farmhouses, & here & there an old castle; it was singularly enjoyable. How I have wished everywhere that you were with us to share the sight—and the best is that you would return home more than ever proud & rejoicing in America. It is a land where humanity is having, and is going to have, such chances as never before. Giddy sends her love. Mine also & to your brother & sister. Good-bye, dear Friend.
Please write soon; I am longing for a letter.
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. 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]
3. Norah Gilchrist, née Fitzmaurice, was the wife of Anne Gilchrist's son Percy Carlyle Gilchrist. [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. Eustace Conway, associated with Bangs & Stetson in New York City, was the uncle of Moncure D. Conway. See Autobiography: Memories and Experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway (Boston; New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), 1:38. [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. Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke's Man's Moral Nature (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1879). [back]
8. Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) was a writer and editor best known for "The New Colossus," a sonnet that appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. A two-volume collection of her poems was published in 1888, titled The Poems of Emma Lazarus (Boston; New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888). Lazarus also advocated on behalf of Jewish refugees in New York. See Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus (New York: Schocken Books, 2006). [back]
9. Mannahatta Whitman was the first daughter of Walt Whitman's brother, Jeff Whitman, and his wife Martha Mitchell Whitman. [back]
10. Jessie Louisa Whitman was the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman. [back]