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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 30 December 1874–1 January 1875


I see, my dearest Friend, I must not look for those dashes1 under the words I thought were going to convey a joyful confirmation of my hopes. I see how the dark clouds linger. Full of pain & indignation. I read the paragraph—but fuller still of yearning tenderness & trust and hope. I believe my dear love that what you need to help on your recovery is a  loc_cb.00280.jpg woman's tender cherishing love and care and that in that warm genial atmosphere the spring of life will be quickened once more and flow full and strong through all its channels as of old, gradually, not quickly, even so. I dare say: but with plenty of patience; with utmost intelligent care of all conditions favourable to health, of diet, of abundant oxygen in the rooms you inhabit, of as much  loc_cb.00281.jpg outdoor life as possible, of happy cheerful companionship & all the homely everyday domestic joys which are so healthful in their influences.

America is doing what nations in all times have done towards that which is profoundly new & great, that which discredits their old ideals and offers them strange fruits & flowers from another world than that they have been content to  loc_cb.00278.jpg dwell in all their lives. But for all that, I do not believe the precious seed is lying dormant even now—everywhere a few in whose hearts it is treasured & yields a noble growth. Since it is America that has produced you nourished your soul and body. She is silently unnoticed producing men & women who will justify you, who will understand the meaning of all and respond with  loc_cb.00284.jpg a love that will quicken & exalt humanity as Christ's influence once did. Still it is inscrutable to me that the heart of America is not now passionately drawn toward the great heart that beats & glows in these Poems—that Drum Taps,2 at any rate are not as dear to her as the memory of her dead heroes sons brothers husbands. It must be that they really do not reach the hands of the American people at large—that the professedly literary cultivated class  loc_cb.00286.jpg asking for nothing better than the pretty sing song sentimentalities which "join them in their nonsense," or else slavishly prostrating their judgments before the models of the past (so perfect for their day, so wholly inadequate for ours) raise their voices so loud in news papers & magazines as to prevent or everywhere check the circulation


Jan 1. The New Year has come in bleakly & keenly—to the inner as well as to the outer sense, with the papers full of the details of the dark fate of the emigrant ship3 & of the terrible railway accidents.4 Percy5 was not able to join us at Xmas (through business,) but I am expecting him tonight. My mother bears up against the cold wonderfully—& even continues to go out in her chair—so Bee's6 letters are very bright & cheerful—she & indeed all my children enjoy the cold  loc_cb.00283.jpg much provided they have plenty of outdoor exercise—above all skating, which they are now enjoying. I too like it, but am so haunted by the thought of the increased misery it brings to our hundreds of thousands of illfed illclothed illhoused.—I trust the family circle round you & your nieces7 at St. Louis, & all near & dear to you are well, and that you have felt the warm grasp of many loving friends this wintry cloudy time my dearest—and that there may breathe out of these poor words a warm bright glow of love and hope & unshakable trust in the future.

A. 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. In her letter to Whitman of December 9, 1874, Gilchrist asked, "whether you have recovered the use of the left side 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?" [back]
  • 2. Whitman's Drum-Taps, a volume that consisted of fifty-three Civil War poems, was published in 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln occurred while Drum-Taps was being printed, and Whitman promptly added the short poem "Hush'd be the Camps To-day," with a note about Lincoln's death to the final signature of the book. Whitman then decided to stop the printing and add a sequel to the book that would more fully take into account Lincoln's death. Copies of the volume were withdrawn so that the sequel could be added. Whitman hastily composed several poems, adding eighteen new poems to those that appeared in Drum-Taps, and all of these poems were published in a second edition Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865–1866). Later, these poems were folded into Leaves of Grass, and by the time the final arrangement of Leaves of Grass was printed in 1881, the "Drum-Taps" cluster that Whitman included in that volume contained forty-three poems. For more information on the printing of Drum-Taps (1865), see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa, 2005). For more on the poems of Drum-Taps and their arrangement in Leaves of Grass, see Huck Gutman, "Drum-Taps," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. The Cospatrick, a ship of British emigrants that sailed from London for Auckland, New Zealand, in September 1874. Two months into the journey, the ship burned at sea, killing 465 people (New York Times [December 28, 1874], 1). [back]
  • 4. This is likely a reference to the December 24, 1874, Shipton-on-Cherwell train crash in Oxfordshire, England, in which 34 people were killed. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Mannahatta ("Hattie," 1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa (1862–1957) 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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