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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 18 March 1879

My Dearest Friend:

I hope you are enjoying this splendid, sunshiny weather as much as we are—the atmosphere here is delicious.1 In the morning Giddy2 and I set at home busy with needle work, letter writing, and reading. After lunch we go out for a walk or to pay visits—and of an evening very often to receptions (but they are not half so jolly as our evenings at Philadelphia). Still we have a lively, pleasant time. I like Miss Booth3 very much, with her kindly, generous character and active practical mind. So I do Mrs. Croly4—she is more impulsive and enthusiastic. Kate Hillard5 often goes with us, & she is always good company. I had a note from Edward Carpenter6 the other day brought by a lady who had been living near him at Sheffield—an American lady with two very fine little girls who has lately lost her husband in England and was on her way back to her parents' home in Pennsylvania—somewhere beyond Pittsburg. She is one who loves your poems, & has great hopes of seeing you in New York. She told me her little girls were so fond of Carpenter he of them—he is first rate with children. I hope you will not put off coming to New York till we are returning to Philadelphia, which will be some time in May. I find Beatrice7 is so anxious to get further advantages for study in England or Paris before she begins to practise, and Herby8 is so strongly advised by Mr. Eaton,9 of whose judgment & experience he thinks very highly, to study in Duron's Studio in Paris for a year, that I have made up my mind to go back, for a time at any rate, this summer; but I shall leave my furniture here, and the question of where our future home is to be, open. Herby is making great progress. I wish you could see the head of an old woman he has just painted—and I wish he had had as much power when he had such splendid chances of painting you. I cannot tell you how vividly and pleasantly Chestnut St. on a sunny day rose before me in your jottings. Love from us all. Tell your sister I often think of her & shall enjoy a chat ever so.

A. G.


  • 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. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Jane Cunningham Croly (1829–1901) was a journalist, and was also the wife of David Goodman Croly, who had served as editor of the New York Daily Graphic. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart . . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
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