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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 3–14 September 1874

 loc_cb.00253.jpg My dearest Friend

The change down here has refreshed me more than usual and I find my Mother still wonderful for her years (the 89th), able to get out daily in her Bath chair for two or three hours—to enjoy our being with her, and suffering little or no pain from rheumatism now.—I hope you have had as glorious a summer & harvest as we have and that you are able to be much out of doors and absorb the health giving influences dear Friend. Such mornings! So fresh and invigorating. I have been before breakfast mostly in a beautiful garden (the old Priory garden) with my beloved Poems and the dew laden flowers and liquid light and sweet fresh air, & the sparkle of the pond & delicious greenness of the meadows beyond & rustling trees and had a joyful time with you my darling—Sometimes with thoughts that lay hold on "the solid prizes of the Universe"1 sometimes so busy building up a home in America, thinking, dreaming,  loc_cb.00256.jpg hoping, loving, groping among dim shadows, straining wistful eyes into the dim distance—then to my Poems again—ah! not groping then but hand in hand with you breathing the air you breathe, with eyes ardently fixed in the same direction your eyes look, heart beating strong with the same hopes, aspirations yours beats with. It does not need to be American to love America and to believe in the great future of humanity there; it is enough to be human, still more English, to do that. I love & believe in & understand her in & through you: but was always drawn towards her, always a believer though in a vaguer way that a new glorious day for men & women was dawning there; and recognized a new, distinctive American quality very congenial to me even in American virtues whom you not perhaps rate highly or regard as decisively national, not adequately  loc_cb.00257.jpg or commandingly so at any rate.—Did I ever tell you the Cousin of mine2 who owns the Priory here fought for two years in the Secession war in the army of the Potomac when Burnside3 & McClellan4were at the head? John Carwardine was Major in a Cavalry regiment—was at Vicksburg, Frederickburg &c. Never wounded, or but slightly—had a good deal of outpost duty, being just the right sort of man for that & has letters of approval from his Generals of which he is not a little proud. Before that fought under the Stars & Stripes in Mexico & has had a curiously adventurous career which he commenced by running away from a military college where he was being prepared for a cadetship & enlisting as a private—getting out of that by & bye and working his way before the mast as a sailor—then mining in California—then in Australia, riding steeple chases, keeper of the Melrose hounds, market gardening, hotel keeping—then on his way back to California cast ashore on one of  loc_cb.00254.jpg the Navigator Islands5 where he remained for six months the only white man among savages who were friendly & made much of him—now, come into a good estate, married to a woman who seems to suit him well & is healthy, cheerful rich & handsome, he has fallen into indifferent health & considerable depression of spirits. Perhaps he finds the atmosphere of Squirearchical6 gentility very stagnant, the bed of roses stifling—perhaps too the severe privation he has at different times undergone have injured him. I often think he was perhaps one of those your eyes rested on with pride & admiration—"handsome tan-faced, dressed in blue". He is the very ideal of a soldier in appearance & bearing. Has now some fine children of whom he is very fond.

It was just this time year I received the precious letter and ring7 that put peace and joy and yet such pain of yearning into my  loc_cb.00258.jpg heart—pain for you, my Darling. O sorrowing helpless love that waits and must wait useless, afar off, while you suffer—But trying every day of my life to grow fitter, more capable of being your comfort and joy and true comrade—never to cease trying this side death or the other—rejoicing in my Children more than I ever rejoiced in them before now that in and through you I for the first time see and understand humanity (myself included) its Divine nature, its possibilities, nay its certainties. How I do long for you to see my children dear Friend, and for them to see and love you as they will love you, and all their nature unfold and grow more vigorously and joyously under your influence. Gracie,8  loc_cb.00262.jpg of whom you have photographs, grows fast,—is such a fair blooming girl. & I hope soon to send you one of Beatrice9 too. They have been enjoying their visit here and are now gone home. Gracie for school, Beatrice for the examination at Apoth. Hall she is hoping to get through. Then she is coming here to be with my Mother & I going back to London: we mean now one or other of us always to be with my Mother here. Herby10 has had such a happy time with his brother11 in Wales—& is looking as brown as a nut & full of health & life—he had a swim in the sea every day. He did succeed in getting into the Academy, & will begin work there Oct. 1st!—I  loc_cb.00263.jpg received the welcome sign from you—the paper with a deeply interesting narration of the Polaris12 & much else. Be sure dear Friend if there is a word about your health in any paper, to send it me. That is what I search for so eagerly—to have the joyful news you are getting on—but even if it is but so very very slowly still, I would rather know the truth—I do not like thinking of you mistakenly I want to send you the thoughts the yearnings that belong to you the cherishing love that enfolds you most tenderly of all when you suffer—O if I could send it! and the cheerful companionship, beguiling the time while strength creeps back—I hope your little nieces13 at St. Louis are well.


Good bye my dearest Friend

Herby, the only one here with me, would like to join his love with mine.

Anne Gilchrist.

I go back the beginning of October.

Sep. 14th.

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. This quote is from Whitman's poem, "Starting From Paumanok," first published in the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. [back]
  • 2. John Carwardine (1829–1889) was honorably discharged from military service on March 21, 1863. [back]
  • 3. Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824–1881) was a Union soldier, industrialist, and politician from Rhode Island. He served as the Governor of Rhode Island from 1866 to 1869, and as a United States Senator for Rhode Island from 1875 until his death. As a Union general in the Civil War, he conducted successful campaigns in North Carolina and East Tennessee, but suffered disastrous defeats at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of the Crater. His distinctive style of facial hair became known as sideburns, derived from his last name. [back]
  • 4. George Brinton McClellan (1826–1885) was a Union general in the Civil War. He served as Commanding General of the Union Army fron November 1861 to March 1862. After the war, McClellan served as the 24th governor of New Jersey from 1878–1881. [back]
  • 5. The Samoan Islands are a large archipelago in the South Pacific. The French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811) visited the islands in 1768 and dubbed them the Navigator Islands, a name which fell out of use in the 1870s. [back]
  • 6. Pertaining to the landed gentry or squires of a country. [back]
  • 7. Whitman enclosed in his letter to Anne Gilchrist of August 18, 1873, a ring: "The enclosed ring I have just taken from my finger & send you with my love." Although Whitman did not write again until 1875, he sent Gilchrist newspapers and magazines. On November 3, 1873, she wrote about her children; and on December 18, 1873, she said of his health: "Perhaps if my hand were in yours, dear Walt, you would get 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 and 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." [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. The American Polaris expedition of 1871–1873, initially led by Charles Francis Hall (c. 1821–1871). The failed Arctic expedition was beset by numerous tragedies, including the possible murder of Hall in 1871. After a collision with an iceberg in October 1872, a number of the crew were stranded on a chunk of ice that floated away; the crew, sustained by several Inuit hunters among their complement, drifted for six months before being rescued close to Newfoundland. The crew remaining on the ship were rescued by the Etah Inuit of Greenland and eventually returned to America via Scotland. [back]
  • 13. Walt Whitman had two nieces: Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957), the daughters of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873). Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
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