Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 29 April 1883

Date: April 29, 1883

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05696

Source: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918), 213–214. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Alex Kinnaman, Natalie O'Neal, Nicole Gray, Marie Ernster, and Amanda J. Axley

Keats Corner
Well Road, Hampstead, London, England
April 29th, '83.

My Dear Walt:

Your card to hand last night, with its sad account of dear Mrs. Stafford's health;1 but what the doctor says is cheering. I wonder, though, what the doctor would call good weather—mild spring, I suppose.

Very glad, my dear old Walt, to see your strong familiar handwriting again; it does one good, it's so individual that it is next to seeing you. Right glad to hear of your good health—had an idea that you were not so well again this winter. John Burroughs2 was very violent against my intaglio;3 on the other hand, Alma Tadema4—our great painter here—liked it very much. I take violent criticism pretty philosophically, now that I see how unreliable it nearly always is. John Burroughs has got a fixed idea about your personality, and that is that the top of your head is a foot high and any portrait that doesn't develop the "dome" is no portrait.—Curious what eyes a man may have for everything except a picture. I finished lately a life-size portrait of James Simmons, J.P.,5 a hunting (fox) squire of the old school—such a fine old fellow. My portrait represents him standing firmly, in a scarlet hunting-coat well stained with many a wet chase, his great whip tucked under his arm whilst buttoning on his left glove, white buckskin trousers in shade relieving the scarlet coat, black velvet hunting cap, dark rich blue background to qualify and cool the scarlet. I wish you could see it. Then I have painted a subject "The Good Gray Poet's Gift." I have long meant to build up something of you from my studies, adding colour. You play a prominent part in this picture—seated at table bending over a nosegay of flowers, poetizing, before presenting them to mother.6 I am standing up bending over the tea-pot, with the kettle, filling it up; opposite you sits Giddy;7 out of the window a pretty view of Cannon place, Hampstead. Mater thinks it a pretty picture and a good likeness of you, just as you used to sit at tea with us at 1729 N. 22nd St. Now I am going out for a stroll on Hampstead Heath. Have just come in from a long ramble over the Heaths—a lovely soft spring day, innumerable birds in full song. I think J. B. is right when he says that your birds are more plaintive than ours—it's nature's way of compensating us for a loss of sunshine: what would England be without the merry lark, the very embodiment of cheeriness. Are not the Carlyle8 & Emerson9 letters interesting? It seems to me to be one of the most beautiful and pathetic things in literature, C's fondness for E. But all Englishmen, I must tell you, are not grumblers like Carlyle; he stands quite alone in that quality—look at Darwin!10

I should be grateful for another postcard.

With all love,
Herb. Gilchrist.

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. Susan M. Stafford was the mother of Harry Stafford, who, in 1876, became a close friend of Whitman while working at the printing office of the Camden New Republic. Whitman regularly visited the Staffords at their family farm near Kirkwood, New Jersey. (David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 685). Beginning in the late 1870s, Mrs. Stafford had been frequently ill. In Whitman's letter to Herbert Gilchrist from April 15, 1883, the poet mentions a "severe fit of illness" of Harry's mother lasting "three weeks." [back]

2. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Herbert Gilchrist designed the frontispiece for Richard Maurice Bucke's biography of Whitman, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883). The photo intaglio-process is an early form of producing photographic artworks by drawing or etching them onto a translucent film before exposing it onto a photographic plate. [back]

4. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was a Dutch-British artist, well known for his oil paintings of European antiquity. [back]

5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

6. 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). [back]

7. Grace "Giddy" Gilchrist (1859–1947) was the youngest child of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring singer, Grace trained as a contralto and married architect Albert Henry Frend in 1897, though the couple divorced twelve years later. Before her marriage to Frend, Grace became involved with playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950); an 1888 letter from Shaw to Grace's brother Herbert Gilchrist suggests that the Gilchrists may have disapproved of Shaw's relationship with Grace. [back]

8. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View" in Specimen Days (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), 168–170 and 170–178. [back]

9. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

10. Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) was an English naturalist, evolutionary theorist and author of On the Origin of Species[back]


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