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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 3 November 1873

 loc_cb.00209.jpg My dearest Friend,

All the papers have reached me—3 separate packets (with the hand writing on them that makes my heart give a glad bound). I look through them full of interest & curiosity, wanting to realize as I do, in things small as well as things large my Land of Promise—the land where I hope to plant down my children—so strong in the faith that they, & perhaps still more those that come after them will bless me for that (consciously or unconsciously, it doesn't matter which) that I should set out with a cheerful heart on that errand if I knew the first breath I drew on American soil, would be my last in life.


I searched hopeful for a few words telling of improvement in your health,1 in the last paper. But perhaps it does not follow from there being no such mention that there is no progress. May you be steadily though ever so slowly gaining ground, my Darling! Now that I understand the nature of the malady (a deficient flow of blood to the brain if it has been rightly explained to me) I realize that recovery must be very gradual: as the coming on of it must have been slow & insidious. And perhaps that, & also even from before the war time with its tremendous strain emotional & physical & is part of the price paid for the greatness of the Poems & for their immortal destiny—the rapt exaltation the intensity of joy & sorrow & struggle—all that went to give them their life giving power.  loc_cb.00213.jpg For I have felt many times in reading them as if the light & heat of their sacred fire must needs have consumed the vital energies of him in whose breast it was generated, faster than even the most splendid physique could renew itself. For our sakes, for humanity's sake you suffer now, I do not doubt, every bit as much as the soldier's wounds are for his country's sake. The more precious the more tenderly cherished, the more drawing the hearts that understand, with ineffable yearnings for this.

My children all continue well in the main. I am thankful to say though Beatrice2 (the eldest girl, looks paler than I could wish & is working her brains too much & the rest of her too little just at present with the hope of getting through the Apothecaries Hall exam: in Arts next Sept. which involves a good bit of Latin and mathematics. This is all women can do in England toward getting into  loc_cb.00210.jpg the medical profession & as the Apoth; Hall certificate is accepted for the preliminary studies at Paris & Zurich, I make no doubt it is also at Philadelphia & New York so that she would be able to enter on medical studies then national preliminary work when we come. For she continues steadfastly desirous to win her way into that field of usefulness & I believe is well fitted to work there with her grave earnest thoughtful feeling nature & strong bodily frame. She is able to enjoy your Poems & the vistas: broods over them a great deal.—Percy3 is bending his energies now to mastering the processes that go to the production of the very best quality of Copper such as is used for telegraph wires &c. no easy matter, copper being the most difficult, in a metallurgical point of view of all the metals to deal with & the Company in whose  loc_cb.00219.jpg employ he is having hitherto been unsuccessful in this branch. His looks, too, do not quite satisfy me:—it is partly rather too long hours of work—but still more not getting a good meal till the end of it. It is so hard to make the young believe that the stomach shares the fatigue of the rest of the body & that there is not nervous energy enough left for it to do all its principal work to perfection after a long exhausting day. But I hope now I or rather his own experience & I together have convinced him in time & he promises me faithfully to arrange for a good meal in the middle of the day however much grudging the time. My little artist Herby4 is still chiefly working from the antique, but tries his hand at home occasionally with oils & to life & has made an oil sketch of me which though imperfect in drawing &c gives far more the real character & expression  loc_cb.00215.jpg of my face than the photographs. Have you heard, I wonder, of William Rossetti's5 approaching marriage. It is to take place early in the New Year. The lady is Lucy Brown6 daughter of one of our most eminent artists7 (he was the friend who first put into my hand the "Selections"8 from your Poems). Lucy is a very sweet tempered cultivated loveable​ woman well fitted I should say to make William Rossetti happy. They are to continue in the old home Euston Sq. with Mrs. Rossetti & the Sisters who are one & all fond of Lucy. I am glad he is going to be married for I think he is a man capable both of giving and receiving a large measure of domestic happiness. I hope the dear little girls at St. Louis9  loc_cb.00216.jpg are well.—And you my Darling O surely the sun is piercing through the dark clouds once more, and strength & health and gladness returning. O fill yourself with happy thoughts for you have filled others with joy & strength & will do so for countless generations, & from these hearts flows back, & will ever flow a steady current of love & the beautiful fruits of love.

When you next send me a paper, if you feel that you are getting on ever so little dearest friend put a dash under the word London—I have looked back at all your old addresses & I see you never do put any lines, so I shall know it was not done absently but really means you are better. And how that line will  loc_cb.00218.jpg gladden my eyes Darling!

Love from us all. Goodbye. 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. Whitman suffered a stroke in 1873 that left him partially paralyzed and recovering for several years. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, published in 1866. For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [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. 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]
  • 6. Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti (1843–1894) was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, model and intellectual. She was the daughter of painter Ford Madox Brown (of whom she wrote an unpublished biography) and his first wife, Elisabeth Bromley. She married critic and writer William Michael Rossetti in 1874. An active feminist, she was a signatory of the national petition for women's suffrage and wrote a biography of Mary Shelley, published in 1890. She started suffering from tubercolosis in 1885 and died in San Remo, Italy, in 1894. [back]
  • 7. Born in France, Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893) was a British painter and designer. He was also the father-in-law of the English editor William Michael Rossetti. [back]
  • 8. William Michael Rossetti prepared a British edition of Whitman's writings called Poems by Walt Whitman that John Camden Hotten published in 1868. About half of the poems from the 1867 American edition of Leaves of Grass were removed for the British edition. In his twenty-seven page "Prefatory Notice," Rossetti justified his editorial decisions, which included editing potentially objectionable content and removing entire poems: "My choice has proceeded upon two simple rules: first, to omit entirely every poem which could with any tolerable fairness be deemed offensive to the feelings of morals or propriety in this peculiarly nervous age; and, second, to include every remaining poem which appeared to me of conspicuous beauty or interest." For more information on this book, see Edward Whitley, "Introduction to the British Editions of Leaves of Grass." [back]
  • 9. Walt Whitman had two nieces: Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957), the daughters of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873). Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
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