Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Anne Gilchrist, 22 February [1878]

Date: February 22, 1878

Whitman Archive ID: upa.00160

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, 1842-1957, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania . The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 3:107–108. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Alicia Bones, Grace Thomas, Anthony Dreesen, and Kevin McMullen

Friday night Feb 22

Dear friend

I am still here—Your kind letter & the papers arrived at noon to-day—Thanks—They are the first visitations of the sort from the outside world for a week—

Sunday Mr S[tafford] and I took a long ride (did I tell you before)—Tuesday another, this time to a farm-auction, where all the neighbors were gathered, 100 or more—quite a scene, and a real study of character, looks & manners here—I scanned it all well, (& was doubtless scanned in return)1—Mr S was to go up last night with a load of straw for market, but it rained furiously, & he did not go—Rain all day till middle of this afternoon, since which we have had a glorious four hours, grand rainbow & gorgeous sunset—but now, as I write, (8½) it looks like rain again—I still keep well—appetite any how quite magnificent—At least two hours forenoon, & two afternoon, down by the creek—Passed between sauntering—the hickory saplings—& "Honor is the subject of my story"—(for explanation of the last three lines, ask Herby—)2

I am glad Bee gets on so well (but I expected it) & my prayers might go up, (if it were not for Tyndal)3 not only toward the success of the second negative,4 but for you & Giddy in that ("up to your ears" of) needle-work—I shall be up before many days5—May be soon—at any rate I think I shall take supper with you by next Tuesday—



1. During the auction, Whitman, "pinched by the cold," took "refuge in the house, by a window, whence I get a full view of the crowd." He observed the people, "old & young, a hundred or more, mostly men & young fellows, but a few housewives & young women . . . Very well they look too, in my opinion—not only handsome & open-eyed, and fresh & independent, with wit enough, movements a little sluggish, but none the less artistic for that—always evidencing power—but with a certain heroic, rugged element through all" (Clifton Waller Barrett Collection, University of Virginia). [back]

2. A cryptic reference to Harry Stafford ("hickory saplings . . . Honor . . . subject"). Perhaps the c in "creek" referred to Edward Cattell, another one of his young Kirkwood friends, to whom the poet had written on February 10 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See the letter from Whitman to Edward Cattell of January 24, 1877. Herbert Gilchrist noted that Whitman was fond of quoting Cassius's speech to Brutus, "Well, honour is the subject of my story" (Julius Caesar, 1.2.91; Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings [London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887], 241). Whitman placed a large bracket about this passage in the margin. [back]

3. A reference to the investigations of John Tyndall (1820–1893), the British physicist. [back]

4. Probably an allusion to an experiment conducted by Beatrice Gilchrist at the medical school. [back]

5. Whitman returned on the following day (Whitman's Commonplace Book). [back]


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