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Anne Gilchrist to Walt Whitman, 20 July 1885

My Dearest Friend:

A kind of anxiety has for some time past weighed upon me and upon others, I find, who love & admire you, that you do not have all the comforts you ought to have; that you are perhaps sometimes straightened for means. We have had letters from several young men, almost or quite strangers to us, asking questions on this subject; and we hoped & thought that if this were so, you would permit those who have received such priceless gifts from you to put their gratitude into some tangible shape, some "free-will offering." Hence the paragraph was put into the Athenaeum which I send with this,1 and we were proceeding to organize our forces when your paper came to hand this morning (the Camden Post, July 3), which seems decisively to bid us desist. Or at all events wait till we had told you of our wishes and plan. One thing would, I feel sure, give you pleasure in any case; and that is to know that there is over here a little band—perhaps indeed it is now quite a considerable one, for we had not yet had time to ascertain how considerable—who would joyfully respond to that Poem of yours, "To Rich Givers."

A friend and near neighbour of ours, Frederick Wedmore,2 is coming over to America this autumn, and counts much on coming to see you. He is a well-known writer on Art here—a friendly, candid, open-minded man with whom, I think, you will enjoy a talk.

I am on the lookout for Miss Smith3—shall indeed enjoy a talk with a special friend of yours, dear Walt. I hope she will not fail to come. Giddy4 is away at Haslemere. Herby5 just going to write for himself to you.

That is a very graphic bit in the Post—the portrait of Hugo, the canary & the kitten6—I like to know all that—as well as to hear the talk.

My love, dear Walt. 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. The paragraph in the Athenaeum of July 11, 1885, read: "A subscription list is being formed in England with a view to presenting a free-will offering to the American poet Walt Whitman. The poet is in his sixty-seventh year, and has since his enforced retirement some years ago from official work in Washington, owing to an attack of paralysis, maintained himself precariously by the sale of his works in poetry and prose, and by occasional contributions to magazines." The magazine lists Anne Gilchrist's son Herbert as well as William Rossetti as the parties responsible for the collection. In mid-August of that year, the Athenaeum printed Whitman's letter to Herbert Gilchrist of August 1, 1885, in which Whitman said he "should decidedly and gratefully accept anything" sent as an offering. [back]
  • 2. Frederick Wedmore (1844–1921) was a theater critic and scholar from England. He was also a neighbor of the Gilchrists. Whether he really met Whitman that fall (as was planned) is unclear. [back]
  • 3. Alys Smith (1867–1951) was a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith and the sister of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She eventually married the philosopher Bertrand Russell. [back]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. This is likely a reference to William Hosen Ballou's interview with Whitman that appeared in the Camden Daily Post on June 28, 1885, and was reprinted in the Cleveland Leader and Herald. In the piece, the interviewer also described Whitman's room, describing "a small picture of Victor Hugo, framed and bordered with mourning," Whitman's "old fashioned" furniture and a "canary" that "sang with all his might, and a kitten [that] played to and fro." [back]
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