Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 28 March 1880
Date: March 28, 1880
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Charles Sixsmith Collection at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
Whitman Archive ID: man.00029
Contributors to digital file: Eder Jaramillo, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Alicia Meyer, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
5 Mount Vernon
March 28/ 80
My dearest Friend
Has it seemed to you a long while since I wrote?1 It has to me, a very long while, & many's the day that I have said to myself, to-morrow I shall write a long letter & then the quiet leisure needed has never come. I sometimes think the best way would be to keep a letter always going—to jot down once a week, say, anything that I fancy will interest you & then send you the sum total at a months end.
I have news about dear Bee2 that will surprise and, perhaps, disappoint you. After she had studied four or five months at Bern the field of medical study began to broaden out before her: she realized more than even before what science was being brought to bear on the investigation of disease, & slowly, reluctantly, painfully she came to the conclusion that she had not sufficient grasp of intellect to master all that she saw a physician ought to master. She could get through her examinations well enough as she has done before—but could not she said "pass" her own inward examination or conscientiously enter upon practice—she would not add to the already too great number of "fumbling physicians". I thought perhaps she was suffering from such work & took a morbid view of things, & wrote to her to come home at once for a rest at any rate. So she is now with us, & I said we would not speak of it to any one till she was rested, & we had talked it well over. For I fully believe myself, that though not brilliantly gifted, her intellect is fully up to the average & a character a good deal beyond—that her devotedness & sympathy would in the end after long years of careful study make her an admirable physician. But I find her conviction is so strong & so conscientious, so against her own wishes—for she loves both the studies & the practice better than ever & is bitterly disappointed,— that no more was to be said. And as regards my own feelings (though I am sorry for her sorrow, & sorry too that the excellent work I think she would do should go undone) yet the profession was like a great man that swallowed her up from me. I had seen nothing of her for two years & should not for three or four more, & I shrank from the arduousness of the life for her. And I have no doubt but that she will find scope in other ways for her fine qualities. So I am well content—& it is such a comfort & delight to have her at home with us once more. And the training she has is a splendid preparation for life generally.—Herby3 has been working double tides to finish a picture he is going to send into the Academy on Tuesday; but whether it will get hung or no is always a toss up for young artists. One of our Philadelphia friends Mr. Murry Gibson has been over here & gives Herby a small commission too. William Rossetti4 spent good Friday afternoon with us; was very pleased with Herby's work. And then we had a long jolly talk about you dear Friend—you have no truer appreciator & friend than he I find he stands fast. Indeed your friends & lovers in England are none of them half hearted,—but then perhaps it is not possible to be so toward you. We find Hampstead so pleasant & healthful that we are looking out for a house to settle down in—and then dear friend if only you will come! it is not so formidable a journey as to Colorado. I wonder if you have been lecturing or writing about that.
I have made the acquaintance of Mr. Buxton Forman5 whom you know by letter & who is a very old & dear friend of Dr. Bucke's6 concerning whom he has told me some very interesting particulars. Did you ever hear his history? if not I will tell it you in my next & you will like him all the more. Rossetti thinks that little paragraph about [Ruskin's?] admiration of your poems which appeared in last weeks Atheneum & has no doubt been sent to you, will give a greater impetus to the circulation of your poems here than anything that has yet happened. Indeed every year the soil gets more & more ready for the crop.—In political matters we are faring very [badly?] just now. England is fairly besotted by [Beaconsfield's?] [specious?] but [rascally?] foreign policy & I believe he will have another lease of power. I hope Mr & Mrs Whitman7 are well—& Jessie8 & Walter? My love to all My thoughts travel daily to America—it has become a part of my life in a very real sense. Love from us all;
Good bye Dearest Friend.
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. 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]
3. 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]
4. 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]
5. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917) was most notably the biographer and editor of Percy Shelley and John Keats. On February 21, 1872, Buxton sent a copy of R. H. Horne's The Great Peace-Maker; A Sub-marine Dialogue (London, 1872) to Whitman. This poetic account of the laying of the Atlantic cable has a foreword written by Forman. After his death, Forman's reputation declined primarily because, in 1934, booksellers Graham Pollard and John Carter published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, which exposed Forman as a forger of many first "private" editions of poetry. [back]
6. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
7. Whitman's brother, George Washington Whitman, and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou." [back]
8. Jessie Louisa Whitman, the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman, was born June 17, 1863. [back]