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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 26 March 1879

My Dearest Friend:

It seems quite a long while since I wrote, & a very long while since you wrote.1 I am beginning to turn my thoughts Philadelphia-wards that we may have some weeks near you before we set out on fresh wanderings across the sea; and though I feel quite cheery about them, I look eagerly forward to the time beyond that when we have a fixed, final nest of our own again, where we can welcome you just when and as you please. Whichever side the Atlantic it is, you will come surely? for you belong to the one country as much as to the other. And I shall always feel that I do too. I take back with me a deep and hearty love for America—I came indeed with a good deal of that, but what I take back is different—stronger, more real. I went over to see friends in Brooklyn yesterday, & it was more lovely than I can tell you on the Ferry—in fact, it was just your poem, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". Herby2 still painting away con amore, & making good progress. I met Joaquin Miller3 at the Bigelows last week, & he was very pleasant (which isn't always the case) and said some very good things to me. Thursday we are going to lunch with Mrs. Albert Brown—perhaps you may have heard of her as Bessie Griffiths. She was a Southern lady who, when she was about 18, freed all her slaves & left herself penniless. On Sunday we take tea at Prof. Rood's of Columbia College. Kate Hillard4 we often see & have lively chats with. We meet also & see a good deal of General Edward Lee5—a fine soldierly looking man, & I believe he distinguished himself in the war & was afterwards sent to organize the new Territory of Wyoming, & was the first governor. I wish very much that if you or your brother knew him or know anything about him, you would tell me—for reasons that I will tell you by & bye. Bee6 is seeing a great deal of the educated coloured people at Boston—was at the meeting of a literary club—the only white among 20 or 30 coloured ladies—likes them much.

Write soon, dear Friend. Meanwhile, best love & good-bye. Anne Gilchrist.

No letters from England this long while.

Please give friendly greetings from me to your brother & sister.


  • 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. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Edward M. Lee was appointed territorial secretary of Wyoming on 25th of July 1868. See Report of the Governor of Wyoming Territory Made to the Secretary of the Interior on the Year 1878 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1878), 1663. [back]
  • 6. 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]
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