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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 12 April 1872

 loc_cb.00089.jpg Dear Friend

I was to tell you about my acquaintanceship with Tennyson,1 which was a pleasant episode in my life at Haslemere Hearing of the extreme beauty of the scenery thereabouts & specially of its comparative wildness & seclusion, he thought he would like to find or build a house, to escape from the obtrusive curiosity of the multitudes who flock to the Isle of Wight2 at certain  loc_cb.00092.jpg seasons of the year—He is even morbidly sensitive on this point & will not stir beyond his own grounds from weeks​ end to weeks​ end to avoid his admiring or inquisitive persecutors—So, knowing an old friend of mine, he called on me for particulars as to the resources of the neighbourhood—And I, good walker & familiar with every least frequented spot of hill & dale for some miles round, took him long rambles in quest of a site. Very pleasant rambles they were; Tennsyon, under the influence of the fresh, outdoor quite unconstrained life in new  loc_cb.00091.jpg scenery & with a cheerful aim, shaking off the languid ennuyée air, as of a man to whom nothing has longer a relish—bodily or mental that too often hangs about him. And we found something quite to his mind—a coppice of 40 acres hanging on the south side two thirds of the way up a hill some 1000 ft​ high—so as to be sheltered from the cold & yet have the light, dry, elastic hill air—& with, of course, a glorious outlook  loc_cb.00090.jpg over the wooded weald of Sussex so richly green & fertile & looking almost as boundless as the great sweep of sky over it—the South Downs—the Surrey Hills & near at hand the hill curving round in a fir-covered promontory, standing out very black & grand between him & the Sun set. Underfoot too a wilderness of beauty—fox gloves (I wonder if they grow in America) ferns, purple heath &c &c.—I don't suppose I shall see much more of him now I have left Haslemere;  loc_cb.00093.jpg though I have had very friendly invitations; for I am a home bird—don't like staying out—wanted at home and happiest there. And I should not enjoy being with them in the grand mansion half so much as I did pic-nicing in the road & watching the builders as we did. It is pleasant to see T. with children—little girls at least—he does not take to boys—but one of my girls was mostly on his knee when they were in the room & he liked them very much. His two Sons are now both 6 ft.​ high.—I have received your letter of March 203 from Brooklyn: but the one you speak of as having acknowledged the photograph4 never came  loc_cb.00096.jpg to hand—a sore disappointment to me, dear Friend. I can ill afford to lose the long & eagerly watched for pleasure of a letter. If it seems to you there must needs be something unreal, illusive in a love that has grown up entirely without the basis of personal intercourse, dear Friend, then you do not yourself realize your own power, nor understand the full meaning of your own words—"whoso touches this, touches  loc_cb.00095.jpg a man"5—"I have put my Soul & Body into these Poems." Real effects imply real causes. Do you suppose that an ideal figure conjured up by her own fancy could, in a perfectly sound healthy woman of my age; so happy in her children, so busy & content, practical earnest, produce such real & tremendous, effect—saturating her whole life, colouring every waking moment—filling her with such joys such such pains that the strain of them has been well nigh  loc_cb.00094.jpg too much even for a strong frame, coming as it does, after twenty years of hard work?

Therefore please dear Friend, do not "warn" me any more—it hurts so, as seeming to distrust my love—Time only can show how needlessly. My love, flowing ever fresh & fresh out of my heart, will go with you in all your wanderings, dear Friend, enfolding you day and night soul & body with tenderness that tries so vainly to utter itself in these poor helpless words, that clings closer than any man's love can cling. O, I could not live if I did not believe that sooner or later you will not be able to help stretching out your arms towards me & saying "Come, my Darling."—When you get this will you post me an American News  loc_cb.00040.jpg paper (any one you have done with) as a token it has reached you—& so on at intervals during your wanderings; it will serve as a token that you are well, & the post marks will tell me where you are—And thus you will feel free only to write when you have leisure & inclination—& I shall be spared that feeling  loc_cb.00041.jpg I have when I fancy my letters have not reached you—as if I were so hopelessly helplessly cut off from you which is more than I can stand. We all read American news eagerly too.—The children are so well & working with all their might. The school turns but more what I desired for them than I had ventured to hope.

Good bye dearest Friend. Anne Gilchrist

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).


  • 1. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 2. The Isle of Wight is an island located off the south coast of England. [back]
  • 3. See Whitman's letter to Gilchrist of March 20, 1872. [back]
  • 4. Gilchrist sent the photographs on January 24, 1872. Perhaps Whitman intended to acknowledge them in his February 8, 1872, response to Gilchrist. [back]
  • 5. Gilchrist paraphrases lines from Whitman's poem "So Long!" from Leaves of Grass. The original lines read: "Camerado, this is no book, / Who touches this touches a man." See "So Long!" as it appeared in the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. [back]
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