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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1875

 loc.02882.001_mflm.jpg My dearest Friend,

Since last I wrote to you at the beginning of April1 (enclosing a little photograph of the old avenue just by our cottage at Colne) I have been into Wales for a fortnight to see Percy2 & have looked, for the first time in my life, on the Atlantic—the ocean my mental eyes travel over & beyond so often, and that your eyes and ears & heart have been fed by, have communed with and interpreted, as in a new tongue to the soul of man. Looking upon that, watching the tides ebb & flow, that ebb & flow on your shores, sharing, through my  loc.02882.002_mflm.jpg beloved book, in those greatest moments you have spent alone with it—that was a new joyful experience, a fresh kind of communing with you.—I went to Wales because I felt anxious about Percy, who is not happy just now. I must not tell friends here about it (except his brother & sisters but I am sure I may tell you, for you will listen with sympathy. He has attached himself very deeply, I think it will prove, to a girl, & she to him, whose parents welcomed him cordially to their house for a year or two & allowed plenty of intercourse till they became aware, through Percy himself who thought it right  loc.02882.003_mflm.jpg to tell the father as soon as he was fully aware of his own feelings & more than suspected Norah's3 response to them) that there was a strong affection growing up between the two. Then they peremptorily forbad all intercourse,—not because they have any objection to Percy—quite the contrary they say; but solely and simply because he is not yet earning money enough to marry on, & they hold that a man has no right to engage a girl's affections till he can do so. As if these things could be timed to the moment the money comes in! Percy  loc.02882.004_mflm.jpg was in hopes & so was I, that if I went down, I might get sense enough into their heads, if not kindness & sympathy into their hearts, to see that the sole effect of such arbitrary & narrow sighted conduct would be to alienate & embitter the young people's feelings toward them, while it would make them more restless & anxious to marry without adequate means. Whereas if a reasonable amount of intercourse were allowed, it would be a happy time with them, & Norah being still so young, (18), & Percy,—  loc.02882.005_mflm.jpg working away with all his might, doing very well for his age & sure, conscientious thorough capable & well trained worker that he is (for the L. School of Mais gives a first-rate scientific preparation for his profession) to be making a modest sufficiency in a year or two. Well, they were very courteous & indeed friendly to me & I think I have won over the mother but the father remains obdurate, & Percy feels bitterly the  loc.02882.006_mflm.jpg separation—all the more trying as they live almost within sight of each other. So Beatrice4 & Grace5 are going to spend their holidays with him this summer to cheer him up. Meanwhile, dear friend, I am on the whole happier than not about him. I liked what I saw of Norah & believe he has found a very sweet affectionate girl of quiet, domestic nature, practical—industrious sensible—thoroughly well to suit him, & that there is true & deep love between them—also she took to me very much & I feel will be quite another  loc.02882.007_mflm.jpg child to me. It is besides no little joy to me to find how Percy has confided in me in this & chooses me as the friend to whom he tells all—far from being any separation as sometimes happens this love of his seems to draw us closer together. Only I am very, very anxious for his sake to see him in a better berth—they would let her marry him on £300 a year; now he has only £175. He is quite competent to manage iron or copper or tin works, only he looks so young, not having yet any beard or moustache to speak of. That is the end of my long story.


This will reach you on your birthday perhaps my dearest Friend; at any rate it must bear you a greeting of love and fond remembrance for that dear day such as my heart will send you when it actually comes: patiently waiting heart, with the fibres of love and boundless trust & joy & hope which bind me to you bedded deep, grown to be, during these long years, a very part of its immortal substance untouchable by age or varying moods or sickness, or death itself, as I surely believe. I long more than words can tell to know how it fares with you now in health & spirit. My children are all well & growing & unfolding to my heart's content. Beatrice & Herbert6 deeply influenced by your Poems.

Goodbye my dearest Friend. 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. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Norah Gilchrist, née Fitzmaurice, would later become the wife of Anne Gilchrist's son Percy Carlyle Gilchrist. [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. 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. 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]
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