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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 12 August 1873

 loc_cb.00143.jpg My dearest Friend

The paper has just been forwarded here which tells me you are still suffering,1 and not, as I was fondly believing, already quite emerged from the cloud of sickness. My Darling—let me use that tender caressing word once more, for how can I help it, with heart so full & no outlet but words?  loc_cb.00146.jpg My darling. I say it over & over to myself with voice with eyes so full of love—of tender yearning sorrowful longing love. I would give all the world if I might come (but am held here yet awhile inexorably by a duty nothing may supersede) & soothe & tend & wait on you & with such cheerful loving companionship lift off some of the weight of the long hours & days & perhaps months that must still go over while nature is slowly, imper loc_cb.00147.jpgceptibly but still so surely repairing the mischief within, result of the tremendous ordeal to your frame of those great overbrimming years of life spent in the Army Hospitals.2 You see dear Friend a woman who is a mother has thenceforth something of that feeling toward all men who are dear to her—a cherishing fostering instinct that makes her rejoice so in all personal service to them. O I should be so happy it needs must diffuse a reviving  loc_cb.00144.jpg comforting vivifying warmth around you. Might but these words breathed out of the inmost heart of a woman who loves you with her whole soul & life & strength fulfil their errand & comfort the sorrowful heart, if ever so little—and through that help to revive the drooping frame! This love that has grown up far away over here, unhelped by the sweet influences of personal intercourse, penetrating the whole substance of a  loc_cb.00150.jpg woman's life, swallowing up into itself all her aspirations, hopes, longings, regardless of Death, looking earnestly confidently beyond that for fruition blending more or less with every thought & act of her life a guiding star that her feet cannot choose but follow resolutely—what can be more real than this dear Friend. What can have deeper roots, or a more immortal growing power within it? But I do not  loc_cb.00152.jpg ask any longer whether this love is believed in & welcome & precious to you: For I know that what has real roots cannot fail to bear real flowers and fruits that will in the end be sweet and joygiving to you; and that if I am indeed capable of being your eternal comrade, climbing whereon you climb, daring all that you dare, learning all that you learn, suffering all that you suffer (pressing  loc_cb.00153.jpg closest then) enjoying all that you enjoy, you will want me, will not be able to help stretching out your hand & drawing me to you. I have written this mostly out in the fields as I am so fond of doing—the serene beautiful harvest landscape spread around, returns once more, as I have every summer for five & twenty years, to this old village where my mother's family have lived in unbroken succession three hundred years, ever since in fact, the old Priory they  loc_cb.00149.jpg have inhabited ceased to be a Priory at the dissolution of monasteries—My Mother's3 health is still good—wonderful, indeed, for 88 though she has been 30 years crippled by rheumatism. Still she enjoys getting out in the Sunshine in her Bath chair & is able to take pleasure in seeing her friends & in having us all with her. Her father was a hale man at 90.4—These eastern counties are flat & tame but yet under this soft smiling summer sky lovely enough too—with  loc_cb.00156.jpg their rich delicious green meadows abundant golden corn crops now being well got in & thickly scattered old homesteads each with gay garden, & picturesque villages shaded by tall elms. Even the sluggish little river Colne one cannot find fault with, it nourishes such a luxuriant border of wild flowers as it creeps along, & turns & twists about from sunshine into shade & shade into sunshine so as to make the very best & most  loc_cb.00158.jpg of itself. But as to the human growth here, I think that perhaps more than anywhere else in England it struggles along choked & poisoned by dead things of the past still holding their place above ground.

I did not see William Rossetti5 before I came down but heard that he had had a very happy time in Italy & splendid weather all the while. Mr. Conway6 & his wife7 & three children  loc_cb.00159.jpg are gone to Brittany for their holiday.

My boys & girls are well—except indeed that I am afraid Percy8 finds his health somewhat affected by the constant inhaling of unwholesome gases analyzing ores all day long, but he is going to have better appliances in his laboratory which will I hope remove or lessen very much the evil. In other respects he likes his work & is getting good experience


May this find you by the sea shore—getting on so fast,—the friend you love best with you, comforted, refreshed soul and body—perfect harmony between these two restored once more so that you step forth with strong & buoyant step to complete your great purpose.

Good bye beloved friend Annie 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. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke while living in Washington, D.C. A few months later, his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) passed away. After his mother's death, Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey, where he lived with his brother George Whitman and George's family at 431 Stevens Street. [back]
  • 2. For more information Whitman's visits to wounded Civil War soldiers in the hospitals of Washington, D.C., see Martin G. Murray, "Traveling with the Wounded: Walt Whitman and Washington's Civil War Hospitals." [back]
  • 3. Henrietta Carwardine Burrows (1785–1875) was Anne Gilchrist's mother. She became a widow following her husband John Parker Gilchrist's horse riding accident when Anne was 11. [back]
  • 4. Henrietta Carwardine Burrows was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Carwardine (1734–1824). Thomas was the grandfather of Anne Gilchrist. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Ellen Davis Dana (1833–1897) and Moncure Daniel Conway married at the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 1, 1858. A fellow Unitarian, feminist, and abolitionist, Ellen collaborated with her husband in the transportation of thirty-one enslaved people from Virginia to freedom in the North. [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]
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