Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 5 December 1879
Date: December 5, 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), 187–189. 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.04212
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
1 Elm Villas, Elm Row, Heath St.
Dec. 5, '79,
My Dearest Friend:
You could not easily realize the strong emotion with which I read your last note and traced on the little map2—a most precious possession which I would not part with for the whole world—all your journeyings—both in youth & now. Mingled emotions! for I cannot but feel anxious about your health, & if I didn't know it was very naught to ask you questions, should beg you [to] tell me in what way your health has failed—whether it is the rheumatic & neuralgic affection that troubled you the last spring we were in Philadelphia, or whether the fatigues & excitements & the very enjoyments & full life, & burst of prophetic joy, as it were, had proved too great a strain. But you have accomplished another thing, that had to be done in your life & I exult with you—have seen the vast magnificent theatre, the free, unfettered conditions whereon humanity will enact a new drama, with the parts all so differently cast! the rest—the moving spirit of it all—hints of this, at least—flashes, glimpses, I find in your greatest poems. But, dear Friend, I think humanity moves forward [slowly] even under splendid conditions—you must give it a century or two instead of 50 years—before at least the crowning glories of a corresponding literature & art will develope themselves—Nature has got plenty of time before her, & obstinately refuses to be hurried; witness her dealings with the mere rocks & stones.
Bee3 is at Berne, working away merrily, rejoicing in the really splendid advantage for medical study there open to her. She mastered German so as to be able to speak & understand it—lectures & all—with ease during the two months at Wiesbaden & she has found a thoroughly comfortable home with some excellent, intelligent ladies who are fond of her & see to her bodily welfare in every possible way. I have my dear little grandson with me here—as engaging a little toddler as the sun ever shone upon—so affectionate & sweet-tempered & bright. I wish I could see him sitting on your knee. You will certainly have to come to us as soon as ever we have a comfortable home, won't you? Giddy4 is well & as rosy as ever. She & Herby5 send their love. I have seen Rossetti6—he was full of enquiries & affectionate interest in all that concerns you—& loth we were to break off our conversation & hurry back—but Hampstead, the pleasantest & prettiest of all our suburbs, is terribly inaccessible & cuts us off a good deal from the intercourse with old friends I had looked forward to. It is on the top of a high hill (as high as the top of St. Pauls), & looks down on one side over the great city with its canopy of smoke, & on the other over a wide, pleasant stretch of green & fertile Middlesex—has moreover pleasant lanes, solid old houses, shaded by big elms, & other picturesque features & such an abundance of keen, fresh air this cold weather too! We sigh for the warmth of an American house indoors often & for American sunshine out of doors. Rossetti has a beautiful little group of children growing up around him—I think the eldest girl will grow up a real beauty & the boy too is a noble little fellow. I meet numbers so delighted to hear about you. I believe Addington Symonds7 is preparing a book which treats largely of your Poems.
Glad to hear that Brother & Sister & nieces are all well. I wish I could write to some of them, but what with needlework, an avalanche of letters, the care of my dear little man—the re-editing of my husband's life of Blake,8 to which there will be a considerable addition of letters newly come to light, I hardly know which way to turn. Per.9 & my nephew & the "Process" have made a great stride forward. Won two important law suits at Berlin, where the Bessemer ring & Krupp at their head were trying to oust them of their patent rights. Also it is practically making good way in England. So by & bye the money will begin to flow in, I suppose—but has not done so yet.
I trust, dearest Friend, this will find you safe & fairly well again at Camden, with plenty of great, happy thoughts to brood over for the winter.
Love from us all. Good-bye.
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. This map was reproduced in Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, ed. Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T.F. Unwin, 1887). [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. 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]
5. 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]
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. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
8. Presumably the new and enlarged two-volume edition, Life of William Blake, with Selections (1880), containing the memoir of Herbert's father, Alexander Gilchrist. [back]
9. Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851–1935) was a British chemist and metallurgist, and the son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. Along with his cousin, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, he developed the Thomas-Gilchrist process of producing steel from phosphoric pig iron during the late 1870s. See Marion Walker Alcaro, Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: A Biography of Anne Gilchrist (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1991), 252 n28. [back]