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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 5 January 1879

My Dearest Friend:

Herby2 has told you of our difficulties in getting comfortable quarters here—and also that we seem now to have succeeded—not indeed in the way I most wished & hoped we had—in 19th St., taking rooms & boarding ourselves—so that we could have a friend with us when & as we pleased. It seems as if that were not practicable unless we were to furnish for ourselves. Certainly our experiences there of using another's kitchen were discouraging—it was so dirty and uncomfortable that we were glad to take refuge in a regular boarding house again before one week was out. It seems to me more difficult to get anything of a medium kind in New York than elsewhere I have been—if it isn't the best, it is very uninviting indeed. Herby is enjoying his work and companionship at the League very much. We stand the cold well—how does it suit you? Is your arm free from rheumatic pains? When you come to Mr. J. H. Johnstons,3 which will be very soon I hope, we shall be quite handy, and have a pretty, sunny room—a sitting room by day!—with a handsome piece of furniture which is metamorphosed into a bed at night—and a large dressing closet with hot & cold water adjoining—all very comfortable. O how wistfully do I think of one evening in Philadelphia, last winter. I shan't begin really to like New York till you come and we have had some chats together. I have news from England which makes me rather anxious. The Blaenavon Co., to which Per.4 is chemist, has gone into liquidation—& I don't know whether it will continue to exist—or how soon in these dull times he may find a good opening elsewhere. Should things go badly for him, either Giddy5 and I will return to England to share [our] home with him there, or else I want him to take into serious consideration coming out here, instead of our going back. Of course it would be a risky thing for him to do with wife6 & child, in these times, unless some definite opening presented itself, but I cannot help thinking that, being an expert in his profession, with first rate training & experience, and iron work & metallurgy promising here to have such enormous developments, he would be sure to do well in the end; and meanwhile we could rub on together somehow. However, we shall see. I have laid the matter before him, he & his dear little wife wrote me a very brave, cheery letter when they told me the bad news—& I shall have an answer to mine, I suppose, by the end of the month. Kate Hillard7 read an amusing paper on Swinburne8 at a meeting of the Woman's Club in Brooklyn—& we had some fine music too. For the rest, I have not yet presented any introductions here.

Have had some beautiful glimpses of the North & East River effects of the shipping at sunset, &c.—Have subscribed to the Mercantile library,—& are beginning to feel at home. Herby & Giddy had been to hear Mr. Frothingham9 this morning, & were much interested. Bee10 missed us sorely at first—but writes—when she does write, which is but seldom—pretty cheerily. Friendly remembrance to your brother & sister. I wonder where Hattie11 & Jessie12 are spending their holidays. Love from us all. Good-bye, dear friend.

A. Gilchrist.

Had a letter from Mr. Marvin13—all well—he is doing the Washington letter of a N. Eng. paper. Hopes & trusts you are really going to Washington.


  • 1. 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). [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Grace Gilchrist Frend (1859–1947) was one of Anne Gilchrist's four children and Herbert's sister. She became a contralto. She was the author of "Walt Whitman as I Remember Him" (Bookman 72 [July 1927], 203–205). [back]
  • 6. Norah Gilchrist, née Fitzmaurice, was the wife of Anne Gilchrist's son Percy Carlyle Gilchrist. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. The British poet, critic, playwright, and novelist Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was one of Whitman's earliest English admirers. At the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), Swinburne pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world" (300–303). His famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America" is included in Songs before Sunrise (1871). For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Whitman and his later recantation, see two essays by Terry L. Meyers, "Swinburne and Whitman: Further Evidence," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14 (Summer 1996), 1–11 and "A Note on Swinburne and Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 21 (Summer 2003), 38–39. [back]
  • 9. Octavius Brooks Frothingham (1822–1895) was an American Transcendentalist author and public speaker, and was apparently familiar with Leaves of Grass. On July 3rd, 1891, Whitman told Horace Traubel, "I have understood O. B. was always my friend—that his allusions were always kind—that he quoted 'Leaves of Grass' without doubt, fear" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, July 22, 1891). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Mannahatta Whitman (1860–1886) was Walt Whitman's niece. She was the first daughter born to the poet's brother, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890), and Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873). [back]
  • 12. Jessie Louisa Whitman, the second daughter of Jeff and Martha Whitman, was born June 17, 1863. [back]
  • 13. 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]
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