Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1876

Date: May 18, 1876

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02891

Source: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, 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, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, Ashley Lawson, Eder Jaramillo, John Schwaningero, Marie Ernster, Erel Michaelis, Amanda J. Axley, Stephanie Blalock, and Jeff Hill

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1 Torriano Gardens
Camden Rd.
May 18. 1876.

Just a line of birthday greeting, my dearest Friend. May it find you enjoying the beautiful spring-time & the grand sights of people & products & the music at Philadelphia notwithstanding drawbacks (but lessening drawbacks I earnestly hope) of health, lameness. Rejoiced, too, perhaps with the sight of many dear old friends whom occasion has brought to your city. May all that will do you good come my dearest Friend–and not least the sense of relief & joy in having fulfilled the great task, in the teeth of such difficulties, re-launched safely, more fully, richly equipt the ship to sail down the great ocean of Time, bearing precious precious freight of seed to be planted in countless successions of human souls; helping forward more than even the best lovers of your poems dream, the great future of humanity. That is what I believe as surely as I believe in my own existence.

The "low star," the great star drooping low in the west has been unusually resplendent of a night here lately & by day lilacs & the labernums wonderfully brightening dear old smoky London, constant reminders all, if I needed any, of the Poet & the Poems so dear to me.

If I do not hear from you to the contrary I aim to take our passage by one of the "States" Line of Steamers that come straight to Philadelphia sailing about the 1st Sept.1—& I am told one ought to secure one's cabin a couple of months or so beforehand. But if there be indeed an increasing hope of your coming here in the course of the summer or if you think it would be best for us to go to New York (only I want to go at once where we are likeliest to stop, because of my furniture) let me hear as soon as may be dear Friend. Looking at it purely as concerns the young ones, for some reasons it is very desirable to come this year & for others to wait till next. With Bee2 for instance we are both losing time & wasting money by going over another winter here when there is no complete & satisfactory medical course to be had. Then as regards dear Per3 he writes me word that though he is doing fairly well he does not think he will be able to take a house & marry till next summer—& that I am very sorry for. But then I think that as I could not be with him nor help him forward the balance goes down on Beatrice's side, if I am able to accomplish it—

Good bye my dearest Friend—Loving tender thoughts shall I send you on the 30th. Solemn thoughts outleaping life, immortal aspirations of my Soul toward your soul. The childrens love too please dearest Friend.

Anne Gilchrist

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)," The 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).


1. In 1876, Anne Gilchrist (1828–1885), Whitman's friend and the author of "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman," one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, moved with three of her children (Herbert, Beatrice, and Grace) from England to Philadelphia. The family lived in Philadelphia from 1876 to 1878; Whitman visited their home almost daily and even had his own room. From April 1878, to 1879, the Gilchrists lived in Concord, Boston, and New York, before returning to England. Anne's son Herbert (1857–1914) remained in America and lived in Philadelphia, maintaining a close relationship with Whitman; after Whitman's death in 1892, he returned to England. For more on Whitman and the Gilchrists, 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. Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851–1935) was the son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, the only of their four children who did not accompany their mother to Philadelphia in 1876 when she met Whitman, as Percy Gilchrist was newly married to Norah Fitzmaurice at the time. At about the same time, Percy Gilchrist collaborated with his cousin Sidney Gilchrist Thomas on refining the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel from 1875 to 1877. [back]


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