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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 16–30 November 1875


I have been wanting the comfort, of a talk with you dearest Friend, for weeks & weeks, without being able to get leisure & tranquillity enough to do it to my hearts​ content, indeed hearts​ content is not for me at present; but restless, eager longing to come—& the struggle to do patiently & completely & wisely what remains for me here before I am free to obey the deep faith and love which govern me—So let me sit close beside you my Darling—& feel your presence & take comfort & strength & serenity from it, as I do, as I can when with all my heart & soul I draw close  loc_cb.00324.jpg to you realizing your living presence with all my might.—First, about Percy1—things are beginning to look a little brighter for him. He is just entering upon a new engagement with some very large & successful works—the Blenavon Iron Co.—where, though his salary will not be higher at first, his opportunities of improvement will be better & he is also to be allowed to take private practice (in assaying & analyzing). The manager there believes in Science & is friendly to Percy & will give him every facility for showing what he can do, so that he hopes to prove to the  loc_cb.00325.jpg Directors before long that he is worth a good salary. The parents of Norah2 (whom he loves) have released from their unfriendly attitude since my Beatrice3 has been staying with him, the two girls have attached themselves to one another & Per.​ has had delightful opportunities of being with Norah, & best of all she is to return here with Beatrice (they are coming tomorrow) & Per.​ is to have a weeks​ holiday & come up, so that he & Norah will be wholly together & have I suspect, the happiest week they have yet had in their lives. Then I have stored away for them the furniture of the dear old home at Colne & I really think that by the time  loc_cb.00322.jpg /76 is out they will be able to marry. I see, and indeed I have known ever since he formed this attachment, that I must not look for him to come to America with me. But what I build upon dearest Friend is that when I have been a little while in America & have made friends & had time to look about me I might hear of a good certainty for him—his excellent training at the Lond.Sch.​ of Mines, large experience at Blenavon energy ability & sturdy uprightness will make him a first rate manager of works by & bye.  loc_cb.00328.jpg But the leaving him so happy with his young wife will make it easier for us to part—Nov. 26—Beatrice has begun to work at anatomy at the School of Medicine for Women lately founded, & seems to delight in her work. She will not enter on the full course all at once—I am for taking things gently. Women have plenty of strength but it is of a different kind from mens​ & must work by gentler & slower means—Above all I do not like what pushes violently aside domestic duties & pleasures. The special work must combine itself with these; I am sure it can. Herby4 is getting on very nicely, never did student love his work better. He is eager, & by making the best use of present opportunities & advantages  loc_cb.00330.jpg yet looking towards America full of cheerful hopes & sympathy. Grace5 is less developed in intellect but not less in character than the others. I can't describe her but send you her photograph. There is a freshness & independence of character about her—yet withal a certain waywardness & reserve. She is a good instinctive judge of character—more influenced by it than by books—yet with a growing taste for them too. She comes to America with a gay and buoyant curiosity, declining to make up her mind about anything till she gets there. We want as far as possible  loc_cb.00331.jpg to transplant our home bodily—to bring as much as we can of our own furniture because we have beautiful old things precious in Herby's eyes & that we are all fond of. And coming straight to Philadelphia & taking a house somewhere on the outskirts of it or Camden immediately we fancy this might be practicable, but have not yet launched into the matter—I have just heard from Mr. Rossetti,6 & also from Mrs. Conway7 of her husbands​ 8 having seen you, & if his report be not too sanguine it is a cheering one & would comfort me much dearest Friend. But what he says is so favourable I am afraid to believe it  loc_cb.00327.jpg altogether, knowing that you would make the very best of yourself & indeed be probably at your best with the pleasure of seeing an old friend fresh from England & also that he is sanguine.

Nov. 30. And now, dear Friend, I have had a very great pleasure indeed, thanks to you—a visit from Mr. Marvin9—& hope to have another when he returns from Paris. And the account he gives of you is so cheerful—so vivid—it seems to part assunder a gloomy cloud that was brooding in my mind. And though I know that for the short hours that you feel bright & well are many long hours when you are far otherwise, still I feel sure those short hours are the earnest of perfect recovery—with a fine patience—boundless patience. And now I can picture you sitting in your favourite  loc_cb.00332.jpg window, having a friendly word with passers by—& feel quite sure that you are happy & comfortable in your surroundings. And a great deal else full of interest Mr. Marvin told me. I was loth for him to go, but one hour is so small we have noticed for a friend I am sorry to say.

William Rossetti has a little girl which is a great delight to him. Miss Hillard10 of Brooklyn has also paid me a visit & spoken to me of you. She charmed me much—only I felt a little cross with her for giving Herby such a dismal account of his chances as an artist in America— loc_cb.00333.jpgHowever we both refused to be discouraged, for after all he can send his pictures to England to be established &c. having plenty of friends who would see to it; & we are both firm in the faith that if you can only paint the really good pictures the rest will take care of itself somehow or other—& that can be done as well in America as in England—but of course he must finish his training here—

With best love from us all, good bye my dearest Friend. Anne 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. 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]
  • 2. Norah Gilchrist, née Fitzmaurice, would later become the wife of Anne Gilchrist's son Percy Carlyle Gilchrist. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 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 (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. Ellen Davis Dana (1833–1897) and Moncure Daniel Conway married at the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 1, 1858. A fellow Unitarian, feminist, and abolitionist, Ellen collaborated with her husband in the transportation of thirty-one enslaved people from Virginia to freedom in the North. [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. Joseph B. Marvin, a friend and an admirer of Whitman's poetry, was from 1866 to 1867 the co-editor of the Radical. He was then appointed as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, on behalf of which he took a trip to London in the late fall of 1875. On October 19, 1875, Whitman wrote a letter to William Michael Rossetti to announce a visit from Marvin. Rossetti gave a dinner for Marvin, which was attended by the following "good Whitmanites": Anne Gilchrist; Joseph Knight, editor of the London Sunday Times; Justin McCarthy, a novelist and writer for the London Daily News; Edmund Gosse; and Rossetti's father-in-law, Ford Madox Brown. [back]
  • 10. Katharine Hillard (1839–1915) was the translator of Dante's Banquet (1889) and the editor of An Abridgment by Katharine Hillard of the Secret Doctrine: A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1907). A Brooklyn resident, she was a friend of Whitman's close friend, the women's rights activist Abby Price (see Whitman's September 9, 1873, letter to Price). According to a letter from Whitman's mother—Louisa Van Velsor Whitman—to Helen Price on November 26, 1872, the Prices expected that Arthur Price and Katharine Hillard would marry (Pierpont Morgan Library). Whitman had known Hillard's writings since 1871 and mentioned her in his June 23, 1873, letter to his friend, the former publisher and fellow clerk Charles Eldridge. Hillard and Whitman first met in person on February 28, 1876, and Whitman sent her a copy of Leaves of Grass on July 27, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Writing to Whitman on September 13, 1871, Moncure D. Conway, who acted as Whitman's agent in England, quoted from a letter he had received from Katharine Hillard: "I have made a discovery since I have been here [in the Adirondacks], and that is, that I never half appreciated Walt Whitman's poetry till now, much as I fancied I enjoyed it. To me he is the only poet fit to be read in the mountains, the only one who can reach and level their lift, to use his own words, to pass and continue beyond." [back]
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