Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 10 October 1887

Date: October 10, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02195

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, Nicole Gray, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

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12 Well Road,
London, England.
October 10th 1887.

Dear Walt;

Painter and picture1 arrived in Hampstead a week ago last Friday without any misadventure. The Custom house offices in Liverpool gave me no trouble, and beyond paying heavily for overweight luggage from Liverpool to London I experienced no difficulty.

Before writing I wanted a few people to see the work.

To begin with, Grace2 is surprised and pleased with it—the picture comes up closely to her recollection of you & she thinks that your admirers will be interested and pleased with the portrait. On Sunday i.e. the day before yesterday some dozen literary men & women looked in. Miss Brooke for instance (author of "An Heir without a Heritage") thinks you look grand,3 and that the picture "emanates" a living personality, and that there is a peculiar light and glow about it at all, as though it was painted near sundown.

Bernard Shawe (a delightful Irishman who reviews books in the Pall Mall cleverly)4 it was rather dark—late in the afternoon when he arrived, he thought there was a joyous spirited look about its execution.—asked me if I was not pleased with it myself?

Mrs Arthur Wilson5 (a spirited socialist—"what a splendid old lion." In fact it is quite evident that the picture gives people quite a new and vivid presentation of your personality here. Buxton Forman6 wouldn't hear of its being "commonplace" thought Bucke's7 remarks about it out of [a mist?] i.e. to try & give 'a youthful fire to the eyes.'

Ernest Rhys8 took high-tea with us yesterday, he only saw it by lamp-light, but Rhys said it gave him a distinctly new, fresh and enlarged idea of your personality, & that he was very glad to have seen it before starting for America. He intends to start in about 3 weeks time, and thinks that he will be in Camden about the middle of November. I have asked him to call on Talcott Williams,9 perhaps you will give him a "leg up" among newspaper men? He is going out in a cargoe-boat, so I should fear that he will be pitched and rolled about a good deal.

I had a smooth passage across except the last two or three days when it was quite rough.

I look back upon my visit to the States with great pleasure—it is a lovely country—and I remember the jolly talks & dinners that I've had at your house.

I find that your portrait is [searchingly?] carried through and that there is little more to do to it—except the hands.

Please give my very kind regards to Mrs. Davis10 & With love to Walt.

Herbert H. Gilchrist

Rhys think this work shows more "resource" than anything I have done. I think so too.

[I have yet to deliver Tennyson's11 & [illegible] [remis's?] gifts for you.]

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. Herbert Gilchrist carried the original of his painting of Whitman with him back to England, leaving behind a copy in the U.S. [back]

2. 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]

3. Emma Frances Brooke (1844–1926) was an novelist, poet, and socialist activist. [back]

4. George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) was a Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer, economist, and socialist activist. In the late 1880s, he apparently had an affair with Herbert Gilchrist's sister Grace. [back]

5. Charlotte M. Wilson (1854–1944) was an English Anarchist who edited the newspaper Freedom together with leading anarcho-syndicalist thinker Peter Kropotkin. She was married to Arthur Wilson, a stockbroker, and a member of the Fabian Society. [back]

6. Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917), also known as Harry Buxton Forman, 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]

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. Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Talcott Williams (1849–1928), a journalist, worked for the New York Sun and World, and became an editorial writer on the Springfield Republican in 1879. He joined the staff of the Philadelphia Press in 1881. In 1912 he became director of the School of Journalism at Columbia University. See also Elizabeth Dunbar's Talcott Williams: Gentleman of the Fourth Estate (1936) and Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1906), 1:202. The Philadelphia Press vigorously supported the poet against the Boston censorship both in its news columns and in its editorials. A front-page story on July 15 quoted at length the defense of Leaves of Grass offered by the Reverend James Morrow, "a prominent Methodist."For more information on Talcott Williams, see Philip W. Leon, "Williams, Talcott (1849–1928)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Mary Oakes Davis was Whitman's housekeeper. [back]

11. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Tennyson began a correspondence with Whitman on July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]


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