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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 3 June 1872

 loc_cb.00097.jpg Dear Friend

The newspapers have both come to hand & been gladly welcomed. I shall realize you on the 26th sending living impulses into those young men, with results not to cease—their kindled hearts sending back response through glowing eyes that will be warmer to you than the June sunshine. Perhaps too, you will have pleasant talks with the eminent astronomers there. Prof. Young1 who is so skillful  loc_cb.00100.jpg a worker with that most subtle fetcher of tidings from the Stars, the Spectroscope—always, it seems hitherto bringing word of the "vast similitude that interlocks all"2 nay of the absolute identity of the stuff they are made of with the stuff we are made of."—The news from Denmark,3 that too, is a great pleasure.

I have been what seems to me a very long while since last writing, because it has been a troubled time within & what I wrote I tore up again, believing it was best wisest so—You said in  loc_cb.00099.jpg your first letter that if you had leisure you could write one that "would do me good & you too"; write that letter dear Friend after you have been to Dartmouth,4 for I sorely need it. Perhaps the letters that I have sent you since that first, have given you a feeling of constraint towards me because you cannot respond to them. I will not write any more such letters; or, if I write them because my heart is so full it cannot bear it, they shall not find their way to the Post.  loc_cb.00098.jpg But do not, because I give you more than friendship, think that it would not be a very dear & happy thing to me to have friendship only from you—I do not want you to write what it is any effort to write—do not ask for deep thoughts, deep feelings—know well those must choose their our own time & mode—but for the simplest current details—for any thing that helps my eyes to pierce the distance & see you as you live & move today. I dearly like to hear about your Mother5—want to know if all  loc_cb.00101.jpg your sisters are married, & if you have plenty of little nephews & nieces—I like to hear anything about Mr. O'Connor6 & Mr. Burroughs,7 towards both of whom I feel as toward friends. (Has Mr. O'Connor succeeded in getting practically adopted his new method of making cast steel? Percy8 being a worker in the field of Metallurgy make me specially glad to hear about this). Then, I need not tell you how deep an interest I feel in American politics & want to know if you are satisfied with the result of the Cincinnati Convention9 & what of Mr. Greely?10 & what you augur as to his success—I am sure dear friend if  loc_cb.00104.jpg you realized the joy it is to me to receive a few words from you—about anything that is passing in your thoughts & around—how beaming bright & happy the day a letter comes & many days after—how light hearted & alert I set about my daily tasks, it would not seem irksome to you to write. And if you say, "Read my books, & be content—you have me in them"—I say, it is because I read them so that I am not content. It is an effort to me to turn to any other reading; as to highest literature what I felt three years ago is more than  loc_cb.00103.jpg ever true now, with all their precious augmentations—I want nothing else—am fully fed & satisfied there. I sit alone many hours busy with my needle; this used to be tedious; but it is not so now—for always close at hand lie the books that are so dear so dear I brooding over the poems sunning myself in them, pondering the Vistas—all the experience of my past life & all its aspirations corroborating them—all my future & so far as in me lies the future of my children to be shaped modified vitalized by & through these—outwardly & inwardly. How then can I be content to live wholly isolated from you? I  loc_cb.00102.jpg am sure it is not possible for any one,—man or woman, it does not matter which, to receive these books, not merely with the intellect critically admiring their power & beauty: but with an understanding responsive heart, without feeling it drawn out of their breasts so that they must leave all & come to be with you sometimes—without a resistless yearning for personal intercourse that will take no denial. When we come to America, I shall not want you to talk to me; shall not be any way importunate. To settle down where there are some that love you & understand your poems, some  loc_cb.00046.jpg where that you would be sure to come pretty often—to have you sit with me while I worked, you silent, or reading to your self, I don't mind how: to let my children grow fond of you—to take food with us; if my music pleased you, to let me play & sing to you of an evening; do your needlework for you—talk freely of all that occupied my thoughts concerning the childrens​ welfare &c—I could be very happy so. But silence with the living presence &  loc_cb.00047.jpg silence with all the Ocean in between are two different things. Therefore, these years stretch out your hand cordially trustfully that I may feel its warm grasp.

Good bye my 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. Charles Augustus Young (1834–1908) was a prominent American astronomer of the nineteenth century. Credited with the invention of the automatic spectroscope and its application to solar research, Young was the Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Dartmouth from 1865 to 1877. He later accepted a post as Chair of Astronomy at Princeton. [back]
  • 2. Gilchrist is quoting a line from this poem, which would eventually be titled "On the Beach at Night Alone." [back]
  • 3. Rudolf Schmidt, a Dane and editor of For Idé og Virkelighed, is credited with introducing Walt Whitman to Scandinavia by quoting translated passages from Leaves of Grass in an 1872 essay in his magazine. He wrote to Walt Whitman on October 19, 1871: "I intend to write an article about yourself and your writings in the above named periodical which is very much read in all the Scandinavian countries. ... I therefore take the liberty to ask you, if you should not be willing to afford some new communications of yourself and your poetry to this purpose" (The Library of Congress). [back]
  • 4. Whitman recited "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" (later, "Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood") at the Dartmouth commencement on June 26, 1872. Evidently a student organization hoped to annoy the faculty by inviting Whitman to Dartmouth, a seat of New England sobriety and conservatism; see Bliss Perry, Walt Whitman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1906), 203–205. A dispatch to the New York Times on June 29, 1872, reported that Whitman "was cordially met by the venerable gentlemen sitting upon the platform. He then took his position at the desk and read, with clearness of enunciation, his poem, written for the occasion, 'As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free.' As Whitman himself said to the writer, 'There is no one expression that could stand as the subject of the poem.'" "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" was later printed as part of the volume As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free and Other Poems in 1872. [back]
  • 5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851–1935) was a British chemist and metallurgist, and the son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. Along with his cousin, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, he developed the Thomas-Gilchrist process of producing steel from phosphoric pig iron during the late 1870s. See Marion Walker Alcaro, Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: A Biography of Anne Gilchrist (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1991), 252n28. [back]
  • 9. The Liberal Republican party was formed in 1870 as a split from the Republican party. The Liberal Republican Convention of 1872, the party's only national convention, took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 1–3, 1872. Horace Greeley was the party's presidential nominee and Benjamin Gratz Brown was the party's vice-presidential nominee. [back]
  • 10. Horace Greeley (1811–1872) was editor of the New York Tribune and a prominent advocate of social and political reform. Greeley generally supported the Whig Party in his early years, though he helped found the Republican Party in 1854. He ran for president as Liberal Republican in the election of 1872. For more information on Greeley, see Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2006). [back]
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