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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 20 May 1873

 loc_cb.00131.jpg My dearest Friend

Such a joyful surprise was that last paper you sent me, with the Poem1 celebrating the great events in Spain—the new hopes, the new life wakening in the hearts of that fine People which has slumbered so long weighed down & tormented with hideous nightmares of  loc_cb.00134.jpg superstition.—Are you indeed getting strong & well again?2 able to drink in draughts of pleasure from the sights & sounds & perfumes of this delicious time, "lilac-time"—according to your wont? Sleeping well—eating well, dear Friend?

William Rossetti3 is comin to see me Thursday, before starting for his holiday trip to Naples. His father was a Neapolitan, who narrowly escaped a lifelong dungeon  loc_cb.00135.jpg for having written some patriotic Songs—he fled in disguise by help of English friends & spent the rest of his life here. So this, his first visit to Naples, will be specially full of interest & delight to our friend. He is also in great spirits at having discovered a large number of hitherto unknown early letters of Shelley's.4 Of modern English Poets Shelley is the one he loves & admires incomparably the most.—Perhaps this letter will just reach you  loc_cb.00130.jpg on your birthday. What can I send you? What can I tell you but the same old story of a heart fast anchored—of a soul to whom your soul is as the sun & the fresh, sweet air, and the nourishing, sustaining earth wherein the other one breathes free & feeds & expands & delights itself. There is no occupation of the day however homely that is not coloured, elevated, made more cheerful to me by thought of you & by thoughts you have  loc_cb.00138.jpg given me blent in & suffusing all: No hope or aim or practical endeavour for my dear children that has not taken a higher larger more joyous scope through you. No immortal aspiration, no thoughts of what lies beyond death but centre in you. And in moods of pain and discouragement dear Friend I turn to that Poem beginning "Whoever you are holding me now in hand"5 and I don't know but that that one revives & strengthens  loc_cb.00140.jpg me more than any. For there is not a line nor a word in it at which my spirit does not rise up instinctive and fearlessly say—So be it. And then I read other Poems & drink in the draught that I know is for me, because it is for all—the love that you give me on the broad ground of my humanity and womanhood. And I understand the reality &  loc_cb.00141.jpg preciousness of that. Then I say to myself Souls are not made to be frustrated—to have their greatest & best & sweetest impulses and aspirations & yearnings made abortive. Therefore we shall not be "carried diverse" forever. This dumb soul of mine will not always remain hidden from you—but some way will be given me for this love, this passion of gratitude, this set of all the nerves of my being toward you, to bring joy  loc_cb.00137.jpg & comfort to you. I do not ask the When or the How.—

I shall be thinking of your great & dear Mother6 in her beautiful old age, too, on your birthday—happiest woman in all the world that she was & is: forever sacred & dear to America & to all who feed on the Poems of her Son.

Good bye my best beloved Friend. Annie Gilchrist.

I suppose you see all that you care to see in the way of English newspapers. I often long to send you one when there is anything in that I feel sure would interest you, but am withheld by fearing it would be quite superfluous or troublesome even

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. "Spain" was published in the New York Daily Graphic on March 24, 1873; the poem was later reprinted in Two Rivulets (1876). [back]
  • 2. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 3. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. The English Romantic poet and playwright Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was the author of the well-known poems "Ozymandias" and "Ode to the West Wind." He was married first to Harriet Westbrook Shelley (1795–1816) and later to Mary Godwin Shelley (1797–1895), the author of the novel Frankenstein (1818). [back]
  • 5. Gilchrist is referring to Whitman's poem "Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand." [back]
  • 6. 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]
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