Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 16 October 1886

Date: October 16, 1886

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02175

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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16. October. 1886.
Saturday afternoon.
12 Well Road Hampstead
London. England.

My dear old Walt:

I have been a good deal worried of late. My Publisher—T. Fisher Unwin prepared a contract which does not satisfy lawyers and business men—nor me either when they explained it.1 Hence delays, insolent letters—in short, matters came to such a pass that I have placed the unsigned draft entirely in the hands of Mr. Ross,—Honorary Secretary of the Incorporated Society of Authors.2 A first rate fellow, who understands Publishers & their agreements, perhaps as well as any man in England.

The upshot of it all will be that either Unwin will sign my agreement as drawn by Ross or I shall part company with my gentleman.

The bone of contention is over the change of form: the publisher wishes to reserve to himself the exclusive right of altering the form & price of editions with out taking heed of author's wishes. Though Unwin owns that it is a good book, and that the author is getting very little for it; yet he has the cheek to stand out for this cool proposition—and my advisers (amongst them is one of the ablest lawyers in London) says that this won't do.

I am vexed that the final circular is not to hand. I corrected the final revise (the list of names etc:) months ago and posted back to Fraser—the printer.

John Fraser3 (a friend of yours) as I think as I mentioned to you in a previous letter, is doing this for love and not money; therefore I have not been able to hurry him. However I wrote about it a few days ago, asking for some explanation as to such delay. As you know he would not hear of taking any money from me for the first circular relating to free-will-offering— though a journey man printer, I take it or foreman? I don't clearly know his exact position Cope's Tobacco Factory at Liverpool.

Your last letter to William M. Rossetti4 is to be facsimiled as before.

Grace5 is staying at Marley with a friend in Surrey. I expect her back on Monday.

I am alone, very much alone and every day I miss my mother more than the last—I only keep things right by incessant work.

It will be the spring before I shall be able to get away—the early spring—when if feasible I shall come over to America for a few months: I think that it will do me a world of good.

Herbert H Gilchrist6

How do you spell Count Garossky's name?7 he died at Washington in Mrs. Ames' house8 —& was a friend of yours—had an eye poked out in a duel?

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. Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings would be published in 1887 with a foreword by William Michael Rossetti. [back]

2. Robbie Ross (1869–1918) was a journalist, critic, and literary executor of Oscar Wilde. [back]

3. John Fraser was the editor of Cope's Tobacco Plant[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 Frederick 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. 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. Gilchrist's postscript can be found at the top of the first page of this letter. [back]

7. Count Adam Gurowski (1805–1866), a Polish exile, published an eccentric three-volume Diary (1862–1866), a day-by-day account of the war written with a marked partiality toward extreme abolitionists. The Count was a colorful figure: he covered his lost eye with a "green blinder," and "he had a Roman head...a powerful topknot, in and out: people always stopped to look at him" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:79, 96). William D. O'Connor, who apparently translated Gurowski's manuscripts into English (see the letter from Gurowski to O'Connor in Feinberg), reported to Whitman on August 13, 1864, that "he is a madman with lucid intervals"—he had attempted "to discipline the firemen with a pistol." Whitman maintained to Traubel in 1888 that "he was truly a remarkable, almost phenomenal, man," and that "he was, no doubt, very crazy, but also very sane" (3:79, 340). Ellen O'Connor related in a letter on November 24, 1863, that the Count had said to her recently: "My Gott, I did not know that [Walt Whitman] was such a poet, tell him so, I have been trying every where to find him to tell him myself." In the last volume of the Diary, Gurowski placed Whitman's name in the first category of his threefold evaluation of persons "mentioned in this volume": "Praise," "Half and Half," and "Blame." In his entry for April 18, 1864, the Count referred to Whitman as among "the most original and genuine American hearts and minds" (187). In a footnote (372–373), appended September 12, 1865, Gurowski abused Harlan, who had "shown himself to be animated by a spirit of narrow-minded persecution that would honor the most fierce Spanish or Roman inquisitor." Gurowski was praised by Robert Penn Warren, in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work: The "Paris Review" Interviews, (New York: Viking, 1958), 189. See also LeRoy Fischer, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 36 (1949–1950): 415–434, and the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement One (New York: Scribner, 1944). [back]

8. Gilchrist is referring to Mrs. Eames. Charles Eames was a prominent maritime attorney in Washington, D.C., in the 1860s, and his wife was a legendary hostess, who turned their home into a social center for political and cultural figures. Mrs. Eames remained loyal to the controversial Count Gurowski after he had been discredited by many people, and she nursed him at the Eames home during his ultimately losing battle with typhoid fever. Julia Ward Howe writes about Mr. and Mrs. Eames and their relationship with Gurowski in her Reminiscences, 1819–1867[back]


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