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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 9 December 1874

 loc_cb.00265.jpg My dearest Friend

It did me much good to get your Poem—beautiful earnest eloquent words from the soul whose dear companionship mine seeks with persistent longing, wrestling with distance & time. It seems to me, too, from your having spoken the Poem  loc_cb.00268.jpg yourself I may conclude you have made fair progress. What I would fain know is whether you have recovered the use of the left side1 so far as to get about pretty freely, and to have as much open air life as you need & like; and also whether you have quite ceased to suffer distressing sensations in the head. If you can say yes to the first question, will you in sign of it put a dash under the word London, & if yes to the second under England when you next send me a paper?  loc_cb.00269.jpg Unless indeed the paper itself contain a notice of your health. But if it does not that would be an easy way of gladdening me with good news, if good news there is. I wish I could send you good letters, dearest Friend, making myself the vehicle of what is stirring around me in life & thought that would interest you; for there is plenty—But that is very hard to do—though I watch, hear, read eagerly full of interest—Everything  loc_cb.00266.jpg stirs in me a cloud of questions, makes me want to see its relationship to what I hold already. I am for ever brooding pondering, sifting, testing—but that is not the bent of mind that enables one to reproduce ones​ impressions in comport & lively form. So please dear Friend, be indulgent, as indeed I know you will be, of these poor letters of mine with their details of my children & their iterated & reiterated expressions of the love and hope and aspiration  loc_cb.00272.jpg you have called into life within me—take them not for what they are but for all they have to stand for—Beatrice2 is at Colne (having got well through the exam: we were anxious about in the autumn) and is a very great comfort to my Mother—as I well knew she would be; for a more affectionate, devoted, care-taking nature does not breathe—with a strong active mental life of her own too. So, though missing her sorely, I am  loc_cb.00274.jpg well satisfied she should be there; & the country life & rest are doing her a world of good. My artist boy3 is working away cheerily at the R. Academy, his heart in his work. Percy4 is coming to spend Xmas with us—he, too, continues well content with his work and in good health. Gracie5 is blooming.

The Rossettis6 have had a heavy affliction this first year of their married life in the premature death of her only brother7—a young man of considerable  loc_cb.00275.jpg promise—barely 20.

The Conways8 are well. I feel more completely myself than I have done since my illness.—so you see dear friend if it has taken me quite four years to recover the lost ground one must not be discouraged if two does not accomplish it in your case.—I hope your little nieces9 at St. Louis are well—and the brothers you are with, and that you have  loc_cb.00271.jpg many dear friends round you at Camden.

I think my thoughts fly to you on strongest and most joyous wings when I am out walking in the clear cold elastic air I enjoy so much.

Good bye my dearest Friend. Annie Gilchrist.

A cheerful Christmas, a New Year of which each days brings its share of restorative influence be yours.

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. 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]
  • 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. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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) Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)." [back]
  • 7. Oliver Madox Brown (1855–1874) was the son of the English painter Ford Madox Brown. Oliver was a painter as well as a writer. He died at the age of nineteen as a result of blood poisoning, leaving several of his works unpublished. William M. Rossetti and Francis Hueffer edited a posthumous collection of Brown's stories including "The Dwale Bluth" and "The Black Swan." [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]
  • 9. Mannahatta ("Hattie," 1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa (b. 1862) Whitman were the daughters of Walt Whitman's brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his wife Martha Mitchell Whitman. Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt; the two girls had moved with their mother in 1868 to St. Louis after Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works there the year before. [back]
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