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Walt Whitman to Anne Gilchrist, 27 July 1875

 upa.00016.001_large.jpg Dearest Friend,2

Your letter of July 83 has reached me, & is comforting, as always. I must write you at least a line or two. Don't mind my long silences. My illness has not lifted since I last wrote you, & is still upon me—the last two or three months the bad spells have been frequent & depressing. Yet I keep up, go out a little most every day, & preserve good spirits.

I am cheered & pleased by the friendly & living photographs. You did well to send them to me. I shall keep them by me—look at them often—they do me good.


I have just sent you a paper. When you write, tell me more about your children—Percy4 & all. Love to them, & to you, dear friend.

Walt Whitman

Before enveloping my letter, I take a good long, long look at the photographs—with all their silence, cheery & eloquent to me, as I sit here alone by my open window—A vague impressiveness, a thought, not without solemnity—which you must understand without my writing it—comes over me, like a little sun–cloud, this vapory day—& with that, & once again my love, I close.5

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: Mrs. Anne Gilchrist, | Earl's Colne, | Halsted, Essex, | England. It is postmarked: Camden | Jul | 27 | N.J.; Philadelphia, Pa. | Jul | 28 | Paid All; Halstead | A | Au 13 | 75. [back]
  • 2. Though Anne Gilchrist wrote frequently, Whitman allowed almost two years to elapse between his replies. In the midst of her accounts of the activities of her children, Gilchrist reaffirmed her ardent affection. On July 4–6, 1874, she wrote: "I believe if I could only make you conscious of the love, the enfolding love my heart breathes out toward you, it would do you physical good. Many sided love—Mothers love that cherishes, that delights so in personal service, that sees in sickness & suffering such dear appeals to an answering limitless tenderness—wifes love—ah you draw that from me too, resistlessly—I have no choice—comrades love, so happy in sharing all . . . Child's love too that trusts utterly, confides unquestioningly" (The Letters of Anne Gilchrist and Walt Whitman, ed. Thomas B. Harned [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918], 113). On September 3–14, 1874, Gilchrist noted that a year ago (see Whitman's August 17, 1873, letter) she had received Whitman's ring "that put peace and joy and yet such pain of yearning into my heart—pain for you, my Darling & sorrowing helpless love that waits and must wait useless, afar off, while you suffer" (Harned, 117). On December 9, she begged: "So please, dear Friend, be indulgent, as indeed I know you will be, of these poor letters of mine with their details of my children & their iterated & reiterated expressions of the love and hope and aspiration you have called into life within me—take them not for what they are, but for all they have to stand for" (Harned, 120). [back]
  • 3. This letter is not known. [back]
  • 4. Gilchrist had devoted her May 18, 1875, letter to a recital of Percy's difficulties with his prospective father-in-law (Harned, 126–128). [back]
  • 5. On August 28, 1875, Gilchrist noted that she had received Whitman's letter while she tended her dying mother (Harned, 129–130). [back]
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