Title: Walt Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist, 23 August 1886
Date: August 23, 1886
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.00082
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
328 Mickle street
Camden New Jersey U S America1
Aug. 23 '86
Thank you for the remittance of the £2 from Prof. Dowden2—(& I deeply thank him also)—Of the Circular—Should you have them to spare, I should like a dozen copies3—I have had a pretty good summer, so far—better than last summer—I drove down yesterday (Sunday) to Glendale4 & staid four or five hours—took dinner there—In general, matters there ab't as usual—Mrs. Stafford5 up & around, but not near as healthy & strong as I would like to see her—the rest all well—We talked of you—Address Wm D. O'Connor,6 Life Saving Service, Treasury Department, Washington D. C., U S America—
Some of her most beautiful, characteristic, interesting and copious letters were written to her friend Walt Whitman the American poet. I suggested to Mr. Whitman, the giving of these letters or rather extracts from them, for publication in the present volume. But the poet was not entirely favorable or willing. "I do not know," he says in a late letter to me, "that I can furnish any good reason, but I feel to keep these sweet utterances exclusively to myself. But I cannot let your book go to press without at least saying—and wishing it put on record—that among the perfect women I have known (and it has been my unspeakably good fortune to have had the very best for mother, sisters and friends) I have known none more perfect in every relation than my dear, dear friend Anne Gilchrist."9
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).
1. This letter is addressed: Herbert H. Gilchrist | 12 Well Road | Hampstead | London | England. It is postmarked: London, N.W. | 7 U | Sp 3 | 86. [back]
2. Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888 Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
4. Glendale, New Jersey, was where the Staffords had moved after leaving their farm at Timber Creek, where Whitman had often visited. [back]
5. Susan and George Stafford were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]. [back]
7. 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]
8. On September 10 Herbert Gilchrist wrote: "What I wrote about Dr B[ucke] sings discordantly in my ears—but in truth I was and am angry at his cool request to hand over your letters (& mothers) to him: his injudicious literary zeal does you and every body else harm." [back]
9. This paragraph appears in Herbert's preface to his biography of his mother: "I do not know . . . that I can furnish any good reason, but I feel to keep these utterances exclusively to myself. But I cannot let your book go to press without at least saying—and wishing it put on record—that among the perfect women I have known (and it has been my unspeakably good fortune to have had the very best, for mother, sisters and friends) I have known none more perfect in every relation, than my dear, dear friend, Anne Gilchrist." Apparently in a lost letter Herbert had asked permission to include his mother's letters to the poet. See also Whitman's letter to Herbert Gilchrist of September 14, 1886. Herbert's mother, 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]
10. This part of the letter can be found at the top of the second page. [back]
11. On the verso of page 4 of the letter, in an unknown hand or hands, crossed out, are various letters and words, including "House Keeping / Immediately," "Transatlantic August 29," and "Mary O. Davis." Mary Davis was Whitman's housekeeper. [back]