Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 30 July 1883
Date: July 30, 1883
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), 217–219. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.05695
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Alex Kinnaman, Natalie O'Neal, and Nicole Gray
Jul. 30, 1883.
My Dearest Friend:
Lazy me, that have been thinking letters to you instead of writing them! We have Dr. Bucke's book at last; could not succeed in buying one at Trübner's—I believe they all sold directly—but he has sent us one. There are some things in it I prize very highly—namely, Helen Price's "Memoranda" and Thomas A. Gere's. These I like far better than any personal reminiscences of you I have ever read & I feel much drawn to the writers of them. Also your letter to Mrs. Price from the Hospitals, dear Friend. That makes one hand-in-hand with you—then & there—& gives one a glimpse of a very beautiful friendship. But why & why did Dr. Bucke set himself to counteract that beneficient law of nature's by which the dust tends to lay itself? And carefully gathering together again all the rubbish stupid or malevolent that has been written of you, toss it up in the air again to choke and blind or disgust as many as it may? What a curious piece of perversity to mistake this for candour & a judicial spirit. Then again, how do I hate all that unmeaning, irrelevant clatter about what Rabelais or Shakespeare or the ancients & their times tolerated in the way of coarseness or plainness of speech. As if you wanted apologizing for or could be apologized for on that ground! If these poems are to be tolerated, I, for one, could not tolerate them. If they are not the highest lesson that has yet been taught in refinement & purity, if they do not banish all possibility of coarseness of thought & feeling, there would be nothing to be said for them. But they do: I am as sure of that as of my own existence. When will men begin to understand them?
We have had pleasant glimpses of several American friends this summer—of Kate Hillard for instance, who, by the bye narrowly escaped a bad accident just at our door—the harness broke & the cab came down on the horse & frightened him so that he bolted—struck the cab against a lamp-post (happily, else it would have been worse)—overturned them & it—but when they crawled out no worse harm was done than a few cuts from the glass—& Kate & her friend behaved very pluckily, & we had a pleasant evening together after all. Then there was Arthur Peterson, looking much as in the old Philadelphia days: and Emma & Annie Lazarus—who, owing to some letters of introduction from James the novelist, have had a very gay time indeed—been quite lionized—and last, not least, Mr. Dalton Dorr, the curator of the Pennsylvania Museum in Fairmount Park—whom we all liked much. He is enjoying his visit here with all his heart—is a great enthusiast for our old Gothic Cathedrals, and for everything beautiful—but says there is nothing such a source of unceasing wonder & delight as riding about London & over the bridges &c on the top of an omnibus watching the endless flow of people—it is indeed a kind of human Mississippi or Niagara.
The young folks are busy packing up to start for the seaside. Herby wants a background for a picture in which green turf & trees and all the richness of vegetation come down to the very edge of the sea and I seem to remember such a place near Lynn Regis, where I was thirty years ago, when my eldest child was born, so they are going to look it up. We hear the heat is very tremendous in America this year. I hope you are as well as ever able to stand it & enjoy it? I wonder where you are. Friendly greetings to Mr. & Mrs. Whitman & Hattie & Jessie & the Staffords. Love to you, dear Friend, from us all.
My little book on Mary Lamb just out—will send you a copy in a day or two.
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).