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Walt Whitman to Anne Gilchrist, 17 August 1873


I must write you a few lines dear loving friend once more at any rate. Since I last wrote clouds have darkened over me, & still remain. On the night of 23d of January last I was paralyzed,2 left side, & have remained so since. February 19th I lost a dear sister,3 who died in St. Louis, leaving two young daughters.4 May 23d my inexpressibly beloved mother5 died in Camden. I was just able to get from Washington to her dying bed, & sit there. I thought I was bearing all stoutly but I find it affecting the progress of my recovery since, & now. The doctor says my disease is really cerebral anaemia, resulting in paralysis. I am still feeble, palsied, & have spells of great distress in the head—But there are favorable points—I am up & dressed every day, sleep & eat middling well, & do not change much yet in flesh & face, only look very old, (though that is nothing new.) Though I move slowly very short distances, I walk with difficulty, & have to remain in or near the house. I think the probabilities are quite strong yet that I shall get well, (though I may not.)

Many times during the past year, especially during the past  upa.00015.002_large.jpg six months, have I thought of you & your children—Many times indeed have I been going to write, but did not. I have just been reading over again several of this & last year's letters from you, & looking at the pictures6 sent in the one of January 24, '72. The letters of Jan 24, June 3, & July 11, of '72,7 & of Jan 31 & May 20, this year8—with certainly one other, & may-be two—all came safe. Do not think hard of me for not writing oftener, especially the last seven months—If you could look into my spirit & emotions you would be entirely satisfied & at peace.

I am at present temporarily here at Camden, on the Delaware river, immediately opposite Philadelphia, at the house of my brother.9 I am occupying the rooms where my mother died—every object of furniture &c. is familiar & has an emotional history. You must not be unhappy about me, for I am as comfortably situated as can be—And many things—indeed every thing,—in my case might be so much worse. Though my plans depend on yet uncertain results, my intention, as far as any thing, is, on getting stronger, & after the hot season passes, to get back to Washington for the fall & winter. My post office address continues there, (Solicitor's Office Treasury.) I send my love to Percy,10 & all your dear children. The enclosed ring I have just taken from my finger & send you with my love.11

Walt Whitman  loc.02144.001_large.jpg  loc.02144.002_large.jpg

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. This letter is addressed: Earls Colne | Halstead Essex | Mrs. Anne Gilchrist. It is postmarked: CAMDEN | AUG | 18 | N.J.; LONDON-N.W. | ZX | SP 1 | 73; [worn-away] | SP 2 | 73; LONDON-N.W. | [illegible] | PAID | SP [illegible]; [illegible]PAID[illegible]; EARLS-COLNE | A | SP 3 | 73. [back]
  • 2. In January 1873, Whitman suffered a paralytic stroke that made walking difficult. He first reported it in his January 26, 1873, letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), and continued to provide regular notes on his condition. By mid-March Whitman was taking brief walks out to the street and began to hope that he could resume work in the office. See also his March 21, 1873, letter to his mother. [back]
  • 3. Martha Mitchell Whitman (d. 1873) known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie experienced a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more information on Mattie, see Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 4. Walt Whitman had two nieces: Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" Whitman (1863–1957), the daughters of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890) and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873). Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
  • 5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, see Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. On January 24, 1872, Gilchrist sent photographs of her "eldest and youngest children," noting that she "wish[ed] [she] had some worth sending of the other two." She also sent a recent photograph and a copy of an 1850 daguerrotype of herself. [back]
  • 7. See Gilchrist's letters to Whitman of January 24, 1872, June 3, 1872, January 31, 1873, and May 20, 1873. At the time of this letter, Gilchrist had also written on April 12, 1872, July 14, 1872 (not July 11, as Whitman writes), and November 12, 1872. [back]
  • 8. On January 31, 1873, Anne Gilchrist complained of Whitman's ten-month silence, and begged him to write: "& do not fear that I shall take it to mean anything it doesn't mean." But, she assured Whitman, she was willing to serve "a long long novitiate" (The Library of Congress; Thomas B. Harned, ed., The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman [1918], 86–87). On May 20, 1873, she sent birthday greetings: "What can I tell you but the same old story of a heart fast-anchored—of a soul to whom your soul is as the Sun & the fresh sweet air, and the nourishing sustaining earth wherein the other one breathes free & feeds & expands & delights itself. There is no occupation of the day however homely that is not coloured, elevated, made more cheerful to me by thought of you & by thoughts you have given me blent in & suffusing all" (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, 88–89). Writing at almost the same time as Walt Whitman, on August 12, 1873, Gilchrist, moved by newspaper reports of his continued illness, addressed him as "My Darling" (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, 91–93). Fearful that Whitman would not receive this twelve-page letter, she sent one to Washington and another to Camden. [back]
  • 9. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was Walt's brother and the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He was ten years Walt Whitman's junior. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Ecstatically Gilchrist replied on September 4, 1873: "O the precious letter, bearing to me the living touch of your hand, vibrating through & through me as I feel the pressure of the ring that pressed your flesh & now will press mine so long as I draw breath" (The Library of Congress; Thomas B. Harned, ed., The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman [1918], 96). Although Walt Whitman did not write again until 1875, he sent Gilchrist newspapers and magazines. On November 3, 1873 (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, 98–101) she wrote about her children; and on December 18, 1873, she said of his health: "Perhaps if my hand were in yours, dear Walt, you would get along faster. Dearer and sweeter that lot than even to have been your bride in the full flush & strength and glory of your youth. I turn my face to the westward sky and before I lie down to sleep, deep & steadfast within me the silent aspiration that every year, every month & week may help something to prepare and make fitter me and mine to be your comfort and joy" (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, 103). [back]
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