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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 8–19 December 1873

 loc_cb.00221.jpg My dearest Friend

The papers with Prof: Young's1 speech came safely, & I read it, my hand in yours—happy and full of interest.—Are you getting on my Darling? When I know that you no longer suffer from distressing sensations in the head & can move without such effort and difficulty a hymn of thankfulness will go up from my heart.2 Perhaps this week I shall  loc_cb.00224.jpg get the paper with the line on it that is to tell me so much—or at least that you are well on your way towards it.3—And what shall I tell you about? The quiet tenor of our daily lives here? but that is very restricted, though I trust as far as it goes, good & healthful. Or the thoughts and hopes that leap forward across the ocean & the years? But they hide themselves away when I want to put them into words. Do not think I live in dreams. I know very well it is strictly in  loc_cb.00225.jpg proportion as the present & the past have been busy shaping & preparing the materials of a beautiful future, that it really will be beautiful when it comes to exist as a present, seeing how it needs must be entirely a growth from all that has preceded it & that there are no sudden creations of flowers of happiness in men & women any more than in the fields. But if the buds lie ready  loc_cb.00222.jpg folded ah what the sunshine will do! What fills me with such deep joy in your poems is the sense of the large complete acceptiveness—the full & perfect faith in humanity—in every individual unit of humanity thus for the first time uttered. That alone satisfies the sense of justice in the soul, responds to what its own nature compels it to believe of the Infinite Source of all. That too includes within its scope the lot as well  loc_cb.00228.jpg as the man. His infinite undying self must achieve and fulfil itself out of any & all experiences. Why if it takes such ages & such vicissitudes to compact a bit of rock—fierce heat, & icy cold storms deluges, crushing pressure & slow subsidences as if it were likely a handful of years & all sunshine would do for a man!—

Decr. 18

The longed for paper has come to hand. O it is a  loc_cb.00230.jpg slow struggle back to health my Darling! I believe in the main it is good news that is come—and there is the little stroke I wanted so on the address. But for all that I feel troubled & anxious—for I believe you have been a great deal worse since you wrote—and that you have still such a steep steep hill to climb. Perhaps if my hand were in yours dear Walt, you would get  loc_cb.00231.jpg along faster—Dearer and sweeter that lot than even to have been your bride in the full flush & strength and glory of your youth. I turn my face to the westward sky before I lie down to sleep, deep & steadfast within me the silent aspiration that every year, every month & week may help something to prepare and make fitter me and mine to be your comfort and joy. We are full of imperfections shortcomings, but half developed, but  loc_cb.00227.jpg half "possessing our own souls." But we grow, we learn we strive—that is the best of us. I think in the sunshine of your presence we shall grow fast I too, my years notwithstanding—May the New Year lead you out into the sunshine again—shed of out of its days health & strength so that you tread the earth in gladness again. This, with love from us all.

Good bye dearest Friend Anne Gilchrist.

Herby4 was at a Conversation last night where were many distinguished men & beautiful women. Among the works of art displayed on the walls was a fine photograph of you.


19th, afternoon.

And now a later post has brought me the other No. of the Graphic5 with your own writing in it, so full of life & spirit so fresh & cheerful & vivid dear Friend it seems to scatter all anxious sad thoughts to the winds. And are you then really back at Washington I wonder or have you only visited  loc_cb.00233.jpg it in spirit, & written the recollection of former evenings.

I shall have none but cheerful thoughts now. I shall reread it carefully, read it to the young folk at tea tonight.

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 before accepting a post as Chair of Astronomy at Princeton. [back]
  • 2. Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 that left him partially paralyzed and recovering for several years. [back]
  • 3. In her letter of November 3, 1873, Anne Gilchrist requested that when Whitman next sent her a newspaper, he "put a dash under the word London" as a way of letting her know that his health was improving. [back]
  • 4. 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). [back]
  • 5. The New York Daily Graphic published a number of Walt Whitman's poems and prose pieces in 1873 and 1874. In 1873, it printed "Nay, Tell Me Not To-day the Publish'd Shame" (March 5, 1873), "With All the Gifts, America" (March 6, 1873), "The Singing Thrush" (March 15, 1873; later called "Wandering at Morn"), "Spain" (March 24, 1873), "Sea Captains, Young or Old" (April 4, 1873; later called "Song for All Seas, All Ships"), "Warble for Lilac-Time" (May 12, 1873), "Halls of Gold and Lilac" (November 24, 1873), and "Silver and Salmon-Tint" (November 29, 1873). In 1874, the Daily Graphic printed "A Kiss to the Bride" (May 21, 1874), "Song of the Universal" (June 17, 1874), and "An Old Man's Thought of School" (November 3, 1874). On November 25, 1873, a picture of Whitman and a review of his work (excerpted by Richard Maurice Bucke, Walt Whitman [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883], 209–210) occupied an entire page of the paper (as Whitman alludes to in his November 28, 1873, letter to Peter Doyle). An editorial in the same issue added biographical details, probably supplied by Whitman himself, and announced the forthcoming publication of the sixth edition of Leaves of Grass. For more on Whitman's relationship with the Daily Graphic, see Susan Belasco, "The New York Daily Graphic." [back]
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