Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 25 January 1880
Date: January 25, 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), 190–192. 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.04213
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
5 Mount Vernon1
Jan. 25, '80.
My Dearest Friend:
Welcome was your postcard announcing recovered health2 & return to Camden! May this find you safe there, well & hearty, able to go freely to & fro on the ferries & streets. I wish one of those old red Market Ferry cars were going to land you at our door once more! What you would have to tell us of western scenes & life! What teas & what evenings we would have—you would certainly have to say "there is a point beyond which"—& would have pretty late trips back of moonlight. Strange episode in my life! so unlike what went before & what comes after—those evenings in Philadelphia—yet so natural, familiar, dear! If I were American-born, I certainly should not want to change it for any country in the world, and if as you have dreamed—as I too have dreamed—it is given us hereafter to have another spell of life on this old earth, may my lot be cast there when the great time dimly preparing is actually come. But meanwhile, dear Friend, my work lies here: innumerable are the ties that bind us. And I can only hope & dream that you will come & stay with us awhile when we have a home of our own. That dear little grandson3 stayed with me two months till I really didn't know how to part with him, & grew more & more engaging & pretty in his ways every day—rapid indeed is the opening of the little bud at that age—between 1 & 3—& the way he had of looking up & giving you little kisses of his own accord would win anybody's heart. Bee's4 letters continue as cheery as ever—she is heartily enjoying work & life, and accomplishing the purpose she has set her heart upon, & the people she is with are so good and kindly, it is quite a home. She is working a good deal with the microscope. Her outdoor recreation is skating. Herby5 is getting on very nicely. He has had a commission to make some designs for a new kind of painted tapestry—and his figures "Audrey & Touchstone" are very much admired & have been bought by a rich American, & he has a commission for more. But the summer work he has set his heart upon is a portrait of you from all the material he brought with him—the many attempts he made there—handled with his present improved skill with the brush. I hope you will be able by & bye to send him the photograph he asked for—but no hurry. Edward Carpenter6 came up from Sheffield and spent an evening with us—which we all heartily enjoyed—he is a dear fellow. We talked much of you. He has been giving lectures this winter on the Lives of the Great Discoverers in Science. Carpenter knows intimately, goes freely among, a greater range & variety of men than any Englishman I know—he has a way of making himself thoroughly welcome by the firesides of mechanics & factory workers—his own kith & kin are aristocratic.
Giddy7 is taking singing lessons again, & hoping by the time you next see her to be able to contribute her share of the evening's pleasure. Percy8 is still working away indomitably at the "process," which is gaining ground rapidly on the continent, & I hope I may say slowly & surely in England. I see the Gilders now & then—indeed they are coming up to lunch with us to-morrow—Mr. Gilder9 is the better for rest—& they seem to enjoy England; but England has done her very worst in the way of climate ever since they have been here. O I do long for a little American sunshine. We met Henry James at the Conways last Sunday & found him one of the pleasantest of talkers. Rossetti10 & all your friends are well. Please give my love to your brothers & sister. Were Jessie11 & Hattie12 at home in St. Louis, I wonder, when you were there? Love from us all.
Good-bye, Dearest Friend.
Please give my love to John Burroughs13 when you write or see him.
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]
3. On August 2, 1879, Anne Gilchrist described her grandson and the Durham Cathedral (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned [New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918], 183). [back]
4. 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]
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. 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. 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]
8. 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]
9. 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]
10. 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]
11. Jessie Louisa Whitman, the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman, was born June 17, 1863. [back]
12. Mannahatta Whitman was the first daughter of Walt Whitman's brother, Jeff Whitman, and his wife Martha Mitchell Whitman. [back]
13. 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]