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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 21 April 1876

 loc.02890.001_mflm.jpg My dearest Friend,

I must write again, out of a full heart. For the reading of this book "The Two Rivulets"1 has filled it very full—Ever the deep inward assent, rising up strong, exultant, my immortal self recognizing, responding to your immortal self. Ever the sense of dearness  loc.02890.002_mflm.jpg —the sweet subtle perfume, pervading every page, every line to my sense—O I cannot put into any words what I perceive nor what answering emotion pervades me, flows out towards you—sweetest deepest greatest experience of my life—what I was made for—surely I was made as the soil in which the precious seed of your thoughts & emotions should be planted—try to fulfil themselves in me, that I might  loc.02890.003_mflm.jpg by & bye blossom into beauty & bring forth rich fruits—immortal fruits—So no doubt other women feel, and future women will.

Do not dissuade me from coming this autumn my dearest Friend2—I have waited patiently 7 years—patiently yet often, especially since your illness with such painful yearning your heart would yearn towards me if you realized it—I cannot wait any longer. Nor ought I to—that would indeed be sacrificing the prudence that concerns itself with immortal things to the prudence that concerns itself only with temporary  loc.02890.004_mflm.jpg ones. But, indeed, even so far as this latter is concerned, there is no sacrifice required for any. It is by far the best step, for instance, I could take on Beatrice's3 account She is heartily in earnest in her medical studies—I am persuaded, too, it is a splendid training for her whether or no she ever makes a money earning profession of it. And in England women have at present, no means of obtaining a complete  loc.02890.005_mflm.jpg medical education. They cannot get admission to any Hospital for the clinical part of the course—So that she is exceedingly anxious to come where it is possible for her to follow out her aims effectually. Then, I am confident she will find America congenial to her—that she is in her essential nature democratic—& that she has the intelligence, the sympathies earnestness affectionateness, unconventionality needed to pierce through appearances surface "crudeness" & see & love the great reality unfolding  loc.02890.006_mflm.jpg below. So I believe has Herby.4 Then an artist is as free as an author to work where he pleases—reaps as much from fresh and widened experiences. He does not contemplate cutting himself off from England—will exhibit here—very likely take a studio in London for a season, a couple of years hence to work among old friends & associations, & so have double chance & opportunities. Then above all, dearest  loc.02890.007_mflm.jpg friend they too see America in & through you—they too would fain be near you. Have no anxiety or misgivings for us. Let us come & be near you—& see if we are made of the right sort of stuff for transplanting to American soil. Only advise us where. If it be Philadelphia (which as far as offering facilities for Beatrice would, as far as I can learn, suit us very well  loc.02890.008_mflm.jpg We must not come I think till the end of October because of its being so full—Perhaps indeed dearest Friend (but I dare not build on it) we shall talk this over in England—If you are able to take the journey, it might, and would be sure to do you good as well as to rejoice the hearts of English friends. But if not, if we are not able to talk over our coming, do not feel the least anxious about us. We shall light on our feet & do very well; Percy5 seems getting on fairly well considering what a bad time it is in his  loc.02890.009_mflm.jpg line of business. I think he will be able to marry this autumn or following winter—I shall go and spend a month with him in July. Perhaps indeed if as many are prophecying the iron trade does not recover its old pre-eminence here—he may be glad by & bye that I have gone over to America & opened a way for him. But if he does not follow me then, if I live, I hope to spend a few months with him every three or four  loc.02890.010_mflm.jpg years, instead of as now a few weeks once a year. Anyhow we have to live widely apart.—Thanks for the papers just received. Specially welcome the account of some stranger's interview with you—for me too before very long now the joy of hearing the "strong musical voice," read the "Wound Dresser" or speak.

I have happy thoughts for my companions all day long, helping me over every difficulty—strengthening me.

Goodbye dearest Friend. Love from us all. 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. Published as a "companion volume" to the 1876 Author's edition of Leaves of Grass, Two Rivulets consisted of an "intertwining of the author's characteristic verse, alternated throughout with prose," as one critic from the The New York Daily Tribune wrote on February 19, 1876 (4). For more information on Two Rivulets, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]" and "Preface to Two Rivulets [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. In 1876, Anne Gilchrist (1828–1885), Whitman's friend and the author of "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman," one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, moved with three of her children (Herbert, Beatrice, and Grace) from England to Philadelphia. The family lived in Philadelphia from 1876 to 1878; Whitman visited their home almost daily and even had his own room. From April 1878, to 1879, the Gilchrists lived in Concord, Boston, and New York, before returning to England. Anne's son Herbert (1857–1914) remained in America and lived in Philadelphia, maintaining a close relationship with Whitman; after Whitman's death in 1892, he returned to England. For more on Whitman and the Gilchrists, 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). [back]
  • 3. Beatrice Carwardine Gilchrist (1854–1881) was the second child (and first daughter) of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. An aspiring physician, Beatrice was a medical student in England before the educational system there (which excluded women) prompted her to attend 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. 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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