Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Beatrice Gilchrist, 13 December 1877

Date: December 13, 1877

Whitman Archive ID: upa.00059

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, 1842–1957, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania. 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), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Anthony Dreesen, Eder Jaramillo, Kevin McMullen, and Nicole Gray

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Dec 13 '77

Dear Bee

My sister told me at breakfast to say to you she would be happy to have you come over Saturday p m & spend the night, & take a ride Sunday, if agreeable to you—

Bee I have been thinking much the few hours past of what Mr Eldridge told me of a young Mrs Needham (an intimate friend of my Washington friends, & two years ago a fine healthy woman of 26) who too overwhelmingly swamped herself as a student at your Phila: medical school, a year & a half since (crowding too much & too intense study into too short a time) resulting in terrible brain troubles & a general caving in, & now (as Mr E told me last night on our journey down) of death lately in a lunatic asylum—just from sheer overwork, & too intense concentration, ardor, & continued strain1

—My own trouble is an illustration of the same danger, & I feel peculiarly sensible of it in others near to me2

Always yours
Walt Whitman

I shall be over at ½ past 53


1. Beatrice was a medical student. Whitman was almost clairvoyant: Beatrice committed suicide in 1881 (see Whitman's letter to Harry Stafford on September 9, 1881). [back]

2. Here Whitman gave the more plausible explanation of his paralysis and physical collapse; for public consumption, however, he invariably attributed his ailments to infections received during his visits to the wartime hospitals. [back]

3. According to Whitman's Commonplace Book, Whitman spent most evenings with the Gilchrists from December 10 to 30, and had Christmas dinner with them. In December, Whitman introduced the Gilchrists to Joaquin Miller and took them on December 27 to see Miller's play, The Danites, at the Walnut Street Theatre (The Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Whitman himself had attended the opening of the play on December 24; see Miller's December 1877 letter to Whitman (see also Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, December 2, 1888 . Herbert Gilchrist reported that at a tea given by his mother Miller exclaimed upon Whitman's arrival: "He looks like a god, to-night" (Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings, ed. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist [London: T.F. Unwin, 1887], 231). [back]


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