Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 15 June 1880
Date: June 15, 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.
Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).
Location: Walt Whitman Collection, 1842–1957, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania
Whitman Archive ID: upa.00047
Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Eder Jaramillo, Nima Najafi Kianfar, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
5 Mount Vernon
My dearest Friend,
Many tokens have you sent me.1 I love the "riddle song"2 & ponder it over & over, Am at once tantalized & pleased. If it were not for the "two little breaths of words" I should be content with a vague yet none the less real answering thought—but those words set me seeking something more definite. William Rossetti3 and I were talking of it. He & his wife & all his children including the last comer—as pretty & sweet tempered a baby as ever I saw—all came up & dined with us a Sunday or two ago—& then we sauntered away the afternoon on our pleasant heath—Rossetti stretching himself onto grass with his pipe (he says he has a good [spice?] of Italian laziness in him, though practically the most industrious of men. The children scampering about, the baby placidly enjoying. Often dear Friend do I picture you sitting on one of the benches (may my dream come true!) enjoying the fresh breeze that almost always blows there, watching the throngs of Londoners of all degrees but chiefly the poor & the hardworking, who come up to breathe it on Saturday & Sunday afternoons—or musing there quiet & alone as one may do other days, with green & fertile Middlesex & Hertfordshire spread out at ones feet & a few blue hills beyond. Your post card received yesterday contained welcome news indeed. Putting together that & the paper that came a day or two before, I infer that you are not only going to Dr. Bucke's4 but are travelling with him. (And by the bye I feel very grateful to him for that letter to the paper, for putting an extinguisher on those smouldering lies.) So I know you have a good friends arm to lean on when you want it, and are going to have a very jolly time indeed—a great time, wandering over the great and splendid land. Next year it must be little England—the mighty mother. Herby5 is working very hard at the Academy just now—the advantage being unlimited models—incessant nature (a too costly business in one's own studio) and also sometimes valuable hints from our best painters. He leaves here before 9 a.m & does not get back till near 9 p.m. Bee6 is at Edinburgh helping one of our best woman doctors who is bent on persuading her to reconsider her decision & not be so diffident of her own powers. How it will end I cannot say. Giddy7 sings a good deal, I think her voice is developing with a really sweet full toned contralto. I still busy with the proof &c. of the new edition of my Husbands book.8 There cannot be finer work of its kind than the Scribner woodcuts from Blakes designs of which they have lent us the blocks It is delightful to have this help & enrichment of the book from America.—We are having a dripping June but it is what the crops want. We shall get into our new house which stands in a pleasant nook looking out on gardens back & front & close to the heath the end of August or beginning of September. We often talk of the Staffords who have sent Herby many affectionate words & tokens. Your friends here are increasing in number & the old ones are very staunch: indeed dearest friend your Poems have found in places here & specially in the north, the soil that suits them.
You will like to see this letter of Carpenter's.9
Love from us all.
Please give a friendly greeting to Dr & Mrs Bucke. Who should come to see us a week or two ago but Mr. Bary.
Goodbye 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. "A Riddle Song" appeared in the Tarrytown Sunnyside Press on April 3. [back]
3. 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]
4. 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]
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. 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]
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. The second edition of Alexander Gilchrist's The Life of William Blake (London: Macmillan and Co., 1880). [back]
9. 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]