Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 27 February 1885
Date: February 27, 1885
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), 233–235. 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.05902
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
Feb. 27, '85.
How has the winter passed with you I wonder? Me it has imprisoned very much with bronchial & asthmatic troubles—and the four walls of the house & the ceiling seem to close in upon one's spirit as well as one's body, all too much. I hope you have been able to wend to and fro daily on the great ferry boats & enjoy the beautiful broad river & the sky & the throngs of people as of old—you are in my thoughts as constantly as ever, though I have been so silent. Percy1 & his wife2 & the little son spent some weeks with us at Christmas & now they have taken a house quite near, into which they will be moving in a week or two. I can't tell you what a dear, affectionate, reasonable, companionable little fellow Archie is—now six years old. Perhaps you will have seen in the American papers that Sidney Thomas, the cousin with whom Percy was associated in the discovery of the Basic process, is dead3—he spent his strength too freely—wore himself out at 35—he was much loved by all with whom he had to do. His mother & sister have been watching & hoping against hope & taking him to warm climates, he himself full of hope—the mind bright and active to the last—& now he is gone—& his eldest brother died only two months before him.—I cannot help grieving over public affairs too—never in my lifetime has old England been in such a bad way—no honest & capable man seemingly to take the helm—& what Carlyle4 was fond of describing as the attempt to guide the ship by the shouts of the bystanders on shore—the newspapers &c. prospering very ill. A government that tries perpetually how to do it and how not to do it at the same moment! The best comfort is that I do not think there is any, the smallest sign, of deterioration in the English race; so we shall pull through somehow, after tremendous disasters. How many things should I like to sit and chat with you about, dear Walt—above all to see you again! I could not get my article into any of the magazines I most wished. I believe it is coming out in To-Day. Giddy5 was so pleased at your sending her a paper—a very capital article too it is of Miss Kellogg.6 I was interested also in a little paragraph I found about Pullman town, near Chicago, which confirmed my suspicion that it was not a thing with healthy roots—but only a benevolent despotism. I am seeing a good deal of your socialists just now—& I confess that though they mean well, I think they have less sense in their heads than any people I ever saw.
I am going to pay a little visit to those friends (friendliest of friends) who live on the lonely top of a heath-covered hill—with such an outlook, such wooded slopes and broad valleys—and the storms travelling up hours before they arrive—such sweeps of sunshine too!—& they mean to drive me about till I am quite strong again. So the next letter I write, dear Friend, shall be more cheery. I am afraid to look back lest this one should read too grumbly to send. I don't feel grumbly however—only shut in. Herby7 has been working hard at getting up an exhibition here to help along our Public Library. It is so very hard to stir up anything like public spirit & unity of action in London or its suburbs—I suppose because of its vastness—& alas! also the social cliques & gentilities & snobbishnesses.
Good-bye, dearest Walt, with love from all.
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. 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]
2. Percy Gilchrist was married to Norah Gilchrist, née Fitzmaurice. [back]
3. Sidney Gilchrist Thomas (1850–1885) was an English inventor and chemist. He died in Paris after a strenuous trip to Egypt. [back]
4. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle in Specimen Days, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View." [back]
5. 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]
6. Pauline Kellogg Wright Davis (1813–1876) was a well-known abolitionist and suffragette. She was the wife of Thomas Davis (1806–1895), a manufacturer of jewelry in Providence, Rhode Island, and a Congressman from 1853 to 1855. Whitman stayed at their home in October 1868. See also Whitman's January 6, 1865, letter to William D. O'Connor. [back]
7. 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]