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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 4–6 July 1874

 loc_cb.00235.jpg My Dearest Friend

Are you well and happy and enjoying this beautiful summer? London is, in one sense, a sort of big prison at this time of year: but still at a wide open window with the blue sky opening to me too & a soft breeze blowing  loc_cb.00238.jpg in & the Book that is so dear—my life-giving treasure—open on my lap. I have very happy times. No one hundreds of years hence will find deeper joy in these poems than I—breathe the fresh sweet exhilarating air of them, bathe in it, drink in what nourishes & delights the whole being, body intellect & soul, more than I. Nor could you, when  loc_cb.00239.jpg writing them have desired to come nearer to a human being & be more to them for ever & for ever than you are & will be to me. O I take the hand you stretch out each day—I put mine into it with a sense of utter fulfilment: I ask nothing more of time and of eternity but to live and grow up to that companionship, that includes  loc_cb.00236.jpg all.

6th. This very morning has come the answer to my question—First I only saw the Poem—read it so elate—soared with it to joyous heights—said to myself—he is so well again, he is able to take the journey into Massachusetts & speak the kindling words—Then I turned over and my joy was dashed. My Darling! such patience yet needed along the tedious path! Oh it makes me long with  loc_cb.00242.jpg passionate longing, with yearnings I know not how to bear, to come, to be your loving cheerful companion, the one to take such care, to do all for you, to beguile the time, to give you of my health as you have done to tens of thousands. I do not doubt either, but that you will get well. I feel sure, sure it will be given me to see you And perhaps a very slow, gradual recovery1 is safest is the only way in this as in other matters, to  loc_cb.00244.jpg thoroughness & a very speedy rally would be specious, treacherous in the end, leading you to do what you were not yet fit for. I believe if I could only make you conscious of the love, the enfolding love my heart breathes out toward you, it would do you physical good. Many sided love—Mothers love that cherishes, that delights so in personal service that sees in sickness & suffering such dear appeals to an answer loc_cb.00245.jpging limitless tenderness:—wife's love—ah you draw that from me too, resistlessly—I have no choice—Comrades love, so happy in sharing all, pain, sorrow, toil, effort, enjoyments, thoughts hopes, aims, struggles, disappointment, beliefs, aspirations. Childs love too that trusts utterly, confides unquestioningly.—Not more spontaneously & wholly without effort or volition on my part, does the sunlight flow into my eyes when I open them in the morning  loc_cb.00241.jpg than does the sense of your existence enter like bright light into my awaking soul. And then I send to you thoughts—tender, caressing thoughts—that would fain nestle so close—ah, if you could feel them, take them in, let them lie in your breast, each morning.

My children are all well, dear Friend. Herbert2 is going to spend his holidays with his brother3 in Wales—& we shall all go to Colne as usual the end of this month, & remain there through August and September  loc_cb.00248.jpg so if you think of it, address any paper you may send Earls Colne, Halstead, because I should get it a day sooner. But it does not signify if you forget & send it here; it will be forwarded all right. Beatrice4 has just got through one of the Govern: Exams, in elementary mathematics and I hope Herby has got into the Academy, but do not know for certain yet. He works away zealously and with great delight in his work. William  loc_cb.00250.jpg Rossetti and his wife5 are coming to dine with us Wednesday—they look so well & happy it does one good to see them. The Conways6 are going to Ostend I think for their holiday, & when they come back going to move into a larger house. I heard an American lady, Miss Whinery7 sing at a concert the other day, who delighted me, fascinated me—I longed to kiss  loc_cb.00251.jpg her after each song, though some of them were poor enough Verdi8 stuff—but she contrived to impart genuineness & beauty to them. I hope you will hear her when she returns to America, which will be soon I believe.

Good bye, dearest Friend—Beatrice Herby & Grace9 join their love with mine. I had the sweet little Bridal Poem all safe, & by the bye I  loc_cb.00247.jpg liked that Springfield paper very much.

Your loving Anne.

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 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]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Beatrice Carwardine Gilchrist (1854–1881) was the second child (and first daughter) of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring physician, Beatrice took the needed preparatory classes but was barred (as were all women) from becoming a medical student in England. As a result, she attended the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. She held positions as a physician in Berne, Switzerland, and later Edinburgh before committing suicide by fatally ingesting hydrocyanic acid in 1881. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 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. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) was an Italian composer. He is best known for his operas, including Aida, Rigoletto, and La traviata. [back]
  • 9. 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]
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