Skip to main content

Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 29 September 1885

 loc.02183.001_large.jpg sent to Mildred and Frank Bain Dec 19 11 | Horace Traubel Dear Walt

Your last letter to hand,—Disappointed not to hear a better account of your health yet, hoped that you were beginning to get around as usual, and like my mother, you are one who misses fresh air so.1

Mother2 is very sadly, obliged to leave off writing (pro tem only I hope.)—a sort of nervous prostration and asthma which aggravated by sleeplessness wch has gone on for the last month and the struggle for breath is making her very weak.

I send you a letter from one Edward Pease of (Quaker stock) an admirer  loc.02183.002_large.jpg & active friend of yours over here in a quiet way.3 He is rendering some assistance over the "Tribute"4 etc: Perhaps you will write to him or Her about it.

Alma Tadema5 the most celebrated artist over here has written to congratulate me over my last picture (finished this summer) and wch he saw at a friend's house. It is rather a feather in my cap—and will perhaps prove a turning point in my artistic career, who knows!

I lead a quiet but moderately varied life and am able to enjoy my work and possess one or two friends.

Thanks for news about Staffords6 very glad to hear that they are all well. I had heard from Mrs Stafford that Ruthie had married; but how young! a long hard life I doubt me!

With best love Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist.

P.S. Thank you for list of names have had a nice letter from J A Symonds,7 enclosing cheque for five quid.

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. See Whitman's letter of September 15, 1885, in which he describes his health as "not quite so well," gives a short overview of the well-being of the Stafford family and encloses a list with "some names of friends (or used to be friends) of L of G. and W. W." for Gilchrist's "free-will offering" that he had been collecting in England to support Whitman financially. On the latter, see also Anne Gilchrist's letter to Whitman of July 20, 1885 as well as William M. Rossetti's letter of August 25, 1885. [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. Edward R. Pease (1857–1955) was a British socialist. His letter is not extant. [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's letter of August 1, 1885. Herbert Gilchrist and William Michael Rossetti had been collecting funds in England for the financial support of Whitman. A paragraph in the Athenaeum of July 11, 1885, read: "A subscription list is being formed in England with a view to presenting a free-will offering to the American poet Walt Whitman. The poet is in his sixty-seventh year, and has since his enforced retirement some years ago from official work in Washington, owing to an attack of paralysis, maintained himself precariously by the sale of his works in poetry and prose, and by occasional contributions to magazines." [back]
  • 5. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) was a Frisian-British painter well known for his classicist works. [back]
  • 6. Susan (1833–1910) and George Stafford (1827–1892) were the parents of Whitman's young friend, Harry Stafford. Whitman often visited the family at their farm at Timber Creek in Laurel Springs (near Glendale), New Jersey, and was sometimes accompanied by Herbert Gilchrist; in the 1880s, the Staffords sold the farm and moved to nearby Glendale. For more, see David G. Miller, "Stafford, George and Susan M.," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
Back to top