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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 14 May 1874

 loc_cb.00197.jpg My dearest Friend

Two papers have come to hand since I last wrote; one containing the memoranda made during the war—precious records, eagerly read & treasured & reread by me.1

How the busy days slip by, one so like another, yet each with its own fresh & pleasant flavor & scent, as like and as different as the leaves on a tree, or the plants in the hedgerows.

Days, they are busy with humble enough occupations, but lit up for me not only with the light of hope, but with the half hidden joy of one who knows she has found what she sought and laid such strong hold upon it that she fears nothing, questions nothing,—no life, or death, nor, in the end, in her own imperfections flaws, shortcomings. For to be  loc_cb.00200.jpg so conscious of these, and to love and understand you so, are proofs the germs of all are in her, & perhaps in the warmth & joyous sunshine of your presence would grow fast. Any how, distance has not baffled her and time will not. A great deal of needlework to be done at this time of year; for my girls have not time for any at present; it is not a good contrast or the right thing after longish hours of study—much better household activity of any sort. If they would but understand this in schools & colleges for girls & young women! No healthier or more cheerful occupation as a relief from study, could be found than household work—sweeping, scrubbing, washing, ironing, cooking—in the variety of it, & equable development of the muscles, I should think equal to the most elaborate gymnastics.  loc_cb.00201.jpg I know very well how I have felt, & still feel the want of having been put to these things when a girl. Then the importance afterwards of doing them easily & well & without undue fatigue, to all who aim to give practical shape to their ardent belief in equality & fair play for all! In domestic life under one roof, at all events it is already feasible to make the disposals without ignominious distinctions,—not all the rough bodily work never ending, still begining; and the mental culture and abundant leisure all to the other—but a wholesome interchange and sharing of these. Not least too among the advantages of taking an active share in these  loc_cb.00196.jpg duties is the zest, the keen relish it gives to the hours not too easily secured for reading & music. Besides, I often think that just as the Poem Nature is made up half of rude rough realities & homely materials & processes, so it is necessary for women to construct their Poem, Home, on a groundwork of homeliest details & occupations providing for the bodily wants & comforts of their household, and that without putting their own hands to this, her Poem will lack the vital fresh growing nature-like quality that alone endures, and that of this soil will grow, with fitting  loc_cb.00204.jpg preparation & culture a noble & more vigorous intellectual life in women, fit to embody itself in wider spheres afterwards—if the call comes.

This month of May that comes to you so laden with great and sorrowful & beautiful & tender memories, and that is your birth month too, I cannot say that I think of you more than at any other time, for there is no month nor day that my thoughts do not habitually & spontaneously turn to you, refer all to you; yet I seem to come closer, because of the Poems that tell me of what relates to that time; but most of all when I think of your beloved Mother,2 because then I often yearn more than I  loc_cb.00206.jpg know how to bear to comfort you with love and tender care and silent companionship. May is in a sense (& a very real one) my birth month too, for in it were your Poems first put into my hand.—I wish so I were quite sure that you no longer suffer in your head, and that you can move about without effort3 or difficulty—perhaps before long there will be a paper with some paragraph about your health, for though we say to ourselves no news is good news, it is a very different thing to have the absolute affirmation of good news.


My children are all well and hearty I am thankful to say, & working industriously. Grace4 means to study the best system of Kinder garten teaching—I fancy she is well suited for Kinder garten teaching & that it is very excellent work—

Herby5 is still drawing from the antique in the British Museum. I hope he will get into the Academy this summer. He is going to spend his holidays with his brother6 in South Wales—and we as usual at Colne,7 but that will not be till August.

Did I tell you William Rossetti and his bride8 were spending their honeymoon at Naples? & have found it bitterly  loc_cb.00203.jpg cold there I hear—Mr. & Mrs. Conway9 & their children are well. Eustace10 is coming to spend the afternoon with Herby tomorrow.

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. Gilchrist refers to one of the six sections of Memoranda During the War (1875) that first appeared as newspaper pieces in 1874. See Robert Leigh Davis, "Memoranda During the War [1875–1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Grace "Giddy" Gilchrist (1859–1947) was the youngest child of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring singer, Grace trained as a contralto and married architect Albert Henry Frend in 1897, though the couple divorced twelve years later. Before her marriage to Frend, Grace became involved with playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950); an 1888 letter from Shaw to Grace's brother Herbert Gilchrist suggests that the Gilchrists may have disapproved of Shaw's relationship with Grace. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. The River Colne is a small river and tributary of the River Thames in England. It runs through Essex, England and passes through Colchester. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Eustace Conway, associated with Bangs & Stetson in New York City, was the uncle of Moncure D. Conway. See Autobiography: Memories and Experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway (Boston: New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), 1:38. [back]
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