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Herbert Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 2 February 1879

Dear Darling Walt:

I read your long piece in the Philadelphia Times with ever so much interest, & with especial delight the delicately told bit about the dear old Pond, artistic, because so true.2 I know that it will please you to hear that I have gained tenfold facility with my brush since the autumn. It has agreed uncommonly well with me having enlisted under such an experienced & able painter as Chase;3 as a manipulator of the brush he is agreed by the experts (Eaton)4 to have no rival. I may yet be able to paint a head of you in one sitting that will do justice to you. Three of my pictures are nicely hung at the Water Colour Exhibition Academy of Design, the first time that I have exhibited in New York. We had two & three engagements every night (with one exception) last week, & go to Mrs. Croley's to-night. Your friend John Burroughs5 called last Wednesday—came to try Turkish baths for his malarious trouble, but it seemed to bring on his attacks of neuralgia worse. I am sorry that I can report but poorly of his health, so painfully excruciating was his neuralgia about his arms at times that a Dr. was sent for & morphia injected in his wrist, but I am glad to say he reported himself a little better. He hopes that you will come and give the lecture on Lincoln this winter; why not, confound it, it would be most interesting.

Quite often we go to Miss Booth's6 receptions. Saturday evening, they are gay & amusing. Met Mr. Bliss, the gentleman that talked like "a house afire" one Sunday at your house last winter, you remember.

Last Wednesday I, mother, Giddy,7 & Kate Hillard8 went to Mrs. Bigelow's9 reception. Miss H. was asked to recite & she recited the "Swineherd" (Anderson​ 's)10 charmingly, & "The Faithful Lovers," which took every one. "Walk in" Miller11 was there (I can't spell his name) & lots more.

This morning being Sunday, I took my skates to the Park. The wind was high & whirled us about fantastically; ladies seated in wicker chairs were pushed rapidly along the Pond's smooth icy surface by their gentlemen escorts, tall men kissed the ice or sprawled full length on their backs, while others flew by like swallows; all this with a church spire peeping behind hills dappled with snow & sunshine: what more inspiriting than this?

And now dear Walt.

Good-bye for the present. Herbert H. Gilchrist.


  • 1. 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]
  • 2. On January 26, 1879, the Philadelphia Times published Walt Whitman's article "Winter Sunshine. A Trip from Camden to the Coast." Paragraph 31 of the piece was titled "A July Afternoon by the Pond" when it was later included in Specimen Days. [back]
  • 3. William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) was an American impressionist painter. In 1878 he began teaching at the New York City Art Students League, where Herbert Gilchrist became his student. [back]
  • 4. Wyatt Eaton (1849–1896), an American portrait and figure painter, organized the Society of American Artists in 1877. Whitman met Eaton at a reception given by Richard W. Gilder on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation," New York Tribune, July 4, and Walt Whitman's Diary in Canada, ed. William Sloane Kennedy (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1904), 54. [back]
  • 5. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Mary Louise Booth (1831–1889) was the first editor of the New York-based Harper's Bazaar, one of the first fashion magazines of its time. Booth also translated around 40 works of French literature and wrote a history of New York. For more on Booth and the Bazaar, see Paula Bernat Bennett, "Subtle Subversion: Mary Louise Booth and Harper's Bazaar (1867–1889)," in Blue Pencils & Hidden Hands: Women Editing Periodicals, 1830–1910 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 225–247. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. Jane Tunis Poultney Bigelow (1829–1889) was the wife of John Bigelow, former American minister to France (1865–1866) and coeditor, with William Cullen Bryant, of the New York Evening Post. [back]
  • 10. Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author and poet best known for his fairy tales. [back]
  • 11. Joaquin Miller was the pen name of Cincinnatus Heine Miller (1837–1913), an American poet nicknamed "Byron of the Rockies" and "Poet of the Sierras." In 1871, the Westminster Review described Miller as "leaving out the coarseness which marked Walt Whitman's poetry" (297). In an entry in his journal dated August 1, 1871, the naturalist John Burroughs recorded Whitman's fondness for Miller's poetry; see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931), 60. Whitman met Miller for the first time in 1872; he wrote of a visit with Miller in a July 19, 1872, letter to his former publisher and fellow clerk Charles W. Eldridge. [back]
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