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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, [26 February 1874]

 loc_cb.00173.jpg My dearest Friend

Glad am I when the time comes round for writing to you again—though I can't please myself with my letters, poor little echoes that they are of the loving, hoping, far journeying thoughts so busy within. It has been a happy time since I  loc_cb.00176.jpg received the paper with the joyful news you were back at Washington, well on your way to recovery able partially to resume work1—scenting from afar the fresh breeze & sunshine of perfect health—by this time, not from afar perhaps. The thought of that makes dull days bright & bright days glorious to me too.—I noted in the New York Graphic2 that a new edition of Leaves of Grass was called for  loc_cb.00177.jpg —sign truly that America is not so very slowly & now absorbing the precious food she needs above all else? Perhaps dear Friend even during your lifetime will begin to come the "proof you will alone accept,—that "your country absorb you as affectionately as you have absorbed it." I have had two great pleasures since I last wrote you. One is that Herby3 has read with a large measure of  loc_cb.00172.jpg responsive delight Leaves of Grass quite through, so that he now sees you with his own eyes & has in his heart the living growing germs of a loving admiration that will grow with his growth & strengthen every fibre of good in him—Also he read & took much pride in my "Letters" now shown him for the first time. Percy4 has had a fortnight's holiday with us, and looks better  loc_cb.00180.jpg in health though still not altogether as I could wish. He says he is getting such good experience, he would not care just yet to change his post even for better pay. Music is his greatest pleasure—he seems to get more enjoyment out of that than out of literature, & is acquiring some practical skill.

Today (Feb. 25th) is my birthday dearest Friend—a day my children always  loc_cb.00182.jpg make very bright & happy to me: and on it they make me promise to "do nothing but what I like all day." So I shall spend it with you,—partly in finishing this letter, partly reading in the book that is so dear to me—for that is indeed my soul coming into the presence of your soul—filled by it with strength & warmth & joy.—In discouraged moods when oppressed with the consciousness of my own limitations,  loc_cb.00183.jpg failures, lack of many beautiful gifts, I say to myself "What sort of a bird with unfledged wings are you that would mate with an eagle? Can your eyes look the sun in the face like his? Can you sustain year long, lifelong flights upward? Can you nest in dizzy rocks overhanging dark, tempestuous abysses? Is your heart like his, a great glowing sun of Love?" Then I answer "Give me  loc_cb.00179.jpg Time. I can bide my time,—a long long growing & unfolding time. That he draws me with such power, that my soul has found the meaning of itself in him—the object of all its deep, deathless aspirations in comradeship with him, means, if life is not a mockery clean ended by death, that the germs are in me, that through cleaving & loving & ever striving up & on I shall grow like him—like but different—the correlative—What his soul needs & desires;  loc_cb.00186.jpg "And if when I reach America he is not so drawn towards me,—if seeing how often I disappoint myself, needs must that he too is disappointed, still I can hold bravely, lovingly on to this inextinguishable faith & hope—with the added joy of his presence sometimes winning from him more & more a dear friendship yielding him some joy  loc_cb.00188.jpg & comfort—for he too turns with hope, with yearning towards me—bids me be "satisfied & at peace" So I am, so I will be my Darling. Surely surely, sooner or later I shall justify that hope satisfy that yearning. This is what I say to myself & to you this 46th birthday Have I said it over & over again? That  loc_cb.00189.jpg is because it is the under current of my whole life.—The "Tribune" with Proctors Lecture on the Sun5 (& a great deal besides that interests me) came safe. A masterly lecture. And two days ago came the Philadelphia paper with Prof. Morton's6 speech—deeply interesting. And as I read these things, the feeling that they have come from, & been read by you turns them  loc_cb.00185.jpg into Poems for me.

Goodbye my dearest Friend. Anne Gilchrist.

W. Rossetti's7 marriage is to be the end of next month. Had a pleasant chat with Mr. Conway,8 who took supper with us a week or two ago.

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. Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 that left him partially paralyzed and recovering for several years. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Richard Anthony Proctor (1837–1888) was a prominent astronomer of the Victorian era. According to the New York Times of January 9, 1874, Proctor delivered "The Sun," which discussed both historical and scientific facts about the sun, to one of the largest audiences held in Association Hall: "It was quite impossible to find a vacant seat, and the crowding at the door was quite foreign to such an occasion" (5). [back]
  • 6. Henry Jackson Morton (1807–1890) attended the University of Pennsylvania, and after graduation became a scientist and professor of physics and chemistry at the Episcopal Academy of Pennsylvania. He gave lectures on chemistry at the Franklin Institute, where he served as the resident secretary. He then went on to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the first president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, a research university in New Jersey. [back]
  • 7. William Michael Rossetti married Lucy Madox Brown (1843–1894), daughter of painter Ford Madox Brown, in 1874; the couple had five children between 1875 and 1881. Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Walt Whitman's work. In 1868 Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Rossetti would remain one of Whitman's staunchest supporters for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in major subscribers to the 1876 Centennial edition of Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. 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]
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