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Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 2 December 1885

 loc.02179.001_large.jpg Dear Walt

The lovely spirit fled on Sunday afternoon at five o'clock.....My darling mother's2 life has been ebbing for the last year: but she battled along accomplishing much good work in writing with devotion to us and her friends just the same...Four years ago mother was attacked by cancer in the breast, wch​ never caused her much pain or was the least distressing in any way but gradually sapped her strength. Dilatation of the heart was the immediate cause of death.

Ten days ago mother asked me if I  loc.02179.002_large.jpg had written to you. I said that I had, just a week ago then.

Some day next year I am going to send you a photograph from my last picture of mother I painted it this summer. I have painted three elaborate and satisfactory portraits of mother & oh how glad I shall be of them. I and brother (Percy Carlyle Gilchrist3) placed her semblance in my father's grave4 this morning at Kensal-Green and on her tomb I shall find a line from Leaves of Grass.


In a little memoranda addressed to us she noted your name down as the one friend in America to whom we were to write to, in announcing darling mother's death.

She died in my arms.5

Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist

The last three months she suffered much from cardaic asthma.

 loc.02179.004_large.jpg  loc.02179.005_large.jpg H Gilchrist  loc.02179.006_large.jpg

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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Mickle Street, | Camden, | New Jersey, | United States, America. It is postmarked: HAMPSTEAD | [illegible] | 85 | N.W.; NEW YORK | DEC | 14; PAID | K | ALL; CAMDEN, N.J. | DEC | 15 | 7 AM | 1885 | REC'D. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 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 (1875–1877), Percy Gilchrist collaborated with his cousin Sidney Gilchrist Thomas on refining the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel. [back]
  • 4. Alexander Gilchrist (1828–1861) was the biographer of William Blake and husband of Anne Gilchrist (1828–1885). [back]
  • 5. See also Whitman's letter of November 30, 1885, expressing his shock at learning that Anne Gilchrist was terminally ill. Herbert's letter had not reached the poet by then. Whitman expressed his condolences in a letter of December 15, 1885. [back]
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