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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 4 December 1875


Though it is but a few days since I posted a letter my dearest friend, I must write you again—because I cannot help it, my heart is so full—so full of love & sorrow and struggle. The day before yesterday I saw Mr. Conway's printed account of you1 & instead of the cheerful report I had been told of, he speaks of your having given up hope of recovery. Those words were like a sharp knife plunged into me They choked me with bitter tears. Dont​ give up that hope, for the sake of those that so tenderly passionately love you—would give their lives with  loc_tb.00388.jpg with joy for you. Why who knows better than you, how much hope & the will have to do with it & I know quite well that the belief does not depress you—that you are ready to accept either lot with calmness, cheerfulness, perfect faith, perhaps with equal joy. But for all that, it does you harm. Ideas always have a tendency to accomplish themselves. And what right have the doctors to utter gloomy prophecies? The wisest of them know the best how profoundly in the dark they are as to much that goes on within  loc_tb.00389.jpg us, especially in maladies like yours. O cling to life with a resolute hold my beloved to bless us with your presence unspeakably dear beneficent presence—me to taste of it before so very long now—thirsting pining loving me. Take through these poor words of mine some breath of the tender tender ineffable love that fills my heart and soul and body take of it to strengthen the very springs of your life: it is capable of that. O its cherishing warmth and joy, if it could only get to you, only fold you round close enough  loc_tb.00387.jpg would help I know. Soon soon as ever my boy2 has one to love & care for him all his own, I will come, I may not before, not if it should break my heart to stop away from you, for his welfare is my sacred charge & nearer & dearer than all to me verily my God, strengthen me, comfort me, stay for me—let that have a little beginning on this dear earth which is for all eternity which will live & grow immortally into a diviner reality than the heart of man has conceived.

I am well satisfied with Norah dear Friend. She is very affectionate, loveable, prudent & clear in all practical matters, well suited to Percy in tastes, [illegible] &c.

Your own Annie.

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. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. Conway published "A Visit to Walt Whitman" in The Academy 8(November 27, 1875), 554. (The New York Tribune noted Conway's article on December 9, 1875.) At the same time he informed Rossetti that "Walt is not in need"; see Letters of William Michael Rossetti, ed. Clarence Gohdes and Paul Franklin Baum (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1934), 98. At this time Gilchrist and Rossetti were contemplating purchasing Walt Whitman's new volumes and presenting them to libraries (95). [back]
  • 2. Percy Carlyle Gilchrist (1851–1935) was the son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, the only of their four children who did not accompany their mother to Philadelphia in 1876 when she met Whitman, as Percy Gilchrist was newly married to Norah Fitzmaurice at the time. At about the same time, Percy Gilchrist collaborated with his cousin Sidney Gilchrist Thomas on refining the Bessemer process for the mass production of steel from 1875 to 1877. [back]
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