Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 17 December 1884
Date: December 17, 1884
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), 230–232. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.05770
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray
Dec. 17, '84.
At last I have extracted a little bit of news about you from friend Carpenter,1 who never comes to see us and is [as] reluctant to write letters as—somebody else that I know. That you have a comfortable, elderly couple to keep house for you was a good hearing—for "the old shanty" had risen before my eyes as somewhat lonely, & perhaps the cooking, &c., not well attended to.—There seems a curious kind of ebb and flow about the recognition of you in England—just now there are signs of the flow—of a steadily gathering great wave, one indication of which is the little pamphlet just published in Edinburgh—one of the "Round Table" Series2—no doubt a copy has been sent you. If not and you would care to see it, I will send you one. On the whole I like it (barring one or two stupidities)—at any rate, as compared with what has hitherto been written. My poor article has so far been rejected by editors—so I have laid it by for a little, to come with a fresh eye & see if I can make it in any way more likely to win a hearing—though I often say to myself, "If they have not ears to hear you, how is it likely one can unstop their ears?" But on the other hand there is always the chance of leading some to read the Poems who had not else done so.—Percy & Norah and Archie,3 now grown a very sturdy active little fellow, are coming to spend Xmas with us, which is a great pleasure.
I am deep in Froude's last volumes of "Carlyle's Life in London".4 Folks are grumbling that they have had enough & too much of Carlyle & his grumblings and sarcasms. But he is an inexhaustibly interesting figure to me, & will remain so in the long run to the world, I am persuaded. It grieves me that he should have been so cruelly unjust to himself as a husband—that remorse, those bitter self-reproaches, were undeserved, were altogether morbid: he was not only an infinitely better husband than she was wife: he was wonderfully affectionate & tender & just—& as to his temper & irritable nerves, she knew what she was about when she married him. Herby was walking through the British Museum the other day with a friend when a group, a ready-made picture, struck him—it was a young student-sculptress, a graceful girl high on a pile of boxes modelling in clay a copy of an antique statue, & standing below, looking up at her, was a young sculptor in his blouse, criticising her work with much animation & gesture; the background of the group, a part of the Elgin Marbles. So this is what Herby5 is painting & I think he will make a very jolly little picture out of it. I have been much a prisoner to the house with bad colds ever since I returned from Wolverhampton, but am beginning to get out again—which puts new life into me. I have never envied anything in this world but a man's strong legs & powers of tramping, tramping, over hill & dale as long as he pleases—legs would content me and a sound breathing apparatus! I am in no hurry for wings. Giddy's voice, too, is just now eclipsed by cold.
I hope you have escaped this evil and are able to jaunt to & fro on the ferries as freely as ever. And I hope the pleasant Quaker friends are well—and Mr. & Mrs. Whitman6 and Hattie7 & Jessie8—there is a fellow student of Giddy's9 at the Guild Hall music school who so reminds her of Hattie.
Love from us all, dear friend. Most from me.
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).
1. 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]
2. John Mackinson Robertson published "Walt Whitman: Poet and Democrat" in the 1884 Round Table Series (no. 4), issued by W. Brown in Edinburgh. [back]
3. Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851–1935) was the son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, the only of their four children who did not accompany their mother to Philadelphia in 1876 when she met Whitman, as Percy Gilchrist was newly married to Norah Fitzmaurice at the time. At about the same time (1875–1877), Percy Gilchrist collaborated with his cousin Sidney Gilchrist Thomas on refining the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel. [back]
4. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) was a British historian and novelist. His writings on Carlyle were quite controversial and heated debate arose over Froude's inclusion of personal details in his biography of his late friend (Carlyle died 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. Whitman's brother, George Washington Whitman, and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou." [back]
7. Mannahatta Whitman was the first daughter of Walt Whitman's brother, Jeff Whitman, and his wife Martha Mitchell Whitman. [back]
8. Jessie Louisa Whitman was the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman. [back]
9. 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]