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Walt Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist, 1 August 1885

 upa.00078.001_large.jpg Original Letter Dear Herbert Gilchrist

Yours of July 21 just rec'd, soliciting some definite word from me ab't an English or transatlantic "free will offering"—a proposed affectionate and voluntary gift to me from my friends there.2 I feel deeply, even for the prompting of it, and should decidedly and gratefully accept any thing it produces. (My publisher David McKay, of Philadelphia, has just been over to pay the last half-annual royalty on my two Volumes Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days, which amounted to twenty-two dollars and six cents—this being the income to me from the sale of my books for the last six months.)3

Fearfully hot weather here. I have had a sunstroke which has made me weak, and kept me indoors for the last twelve days; but I move around the house, eat my rations fairly, write a little, and shall quite certainly soon resume my usual state of health, late times—(doubtless lower'd a slight notch or two, as I find that is the way things go on year after year.) Fortunately I have a good faithful young Jersey woman and friend, Mary Davis, who cooks for me, and vigilantly sees to me.4

Give my love to Wm M. Rossetti5 and to all enquiring friends, known or unknown.

You are at liberty to make any use of this letter you see fit.6

Walt Whitman  upa.00078.002_large.jpg Sprague Collection No 34 W. #18

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).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Mrs: Gilchrist | 12 Well Road | Hampstead | London | England. It is postmarked: Camden | Aug 1 | 5 PM | 1885 | N.J.; London N [cut away] | 7 U | Au 14[cut away] | [cut away]. Whitman made a mistake in addressing the envelope. [back]
  • 2. Anne Gilchrist on July 20, in what was to be her last letter to the poet, spoke of the eagerness of many young men in England to show their affection for Whitman. For this reason they inserted a paragraph in The Athenaeum on July 11 soliciting funds, but were disturbed by a notice in the Camden Daily Post of July 3 "which seems decisively to bid us desist!" The Daily Post reprinted W. H. Ballou's interview with the poet from the Cleveland Leader and Herald on June 28, in which Whitman was quoted: "My income is just sufficient to keep my head above water—and what more can a poet ask?" The Athenaeum said in part: "The poet is in his sixty-seventh year, and has . . . maintained himself precariously by the sale of his works in poetry and prose, and by occasional contributions to magazines." [back]
  • 3. Whitman did not include his much larger income from the sales of poems and prose to magazines and newspapers (see the letter from Whitman to William Michael Rossetti of November 30, 1885). On December 1, 1885, he received $20.71 in payment of royalties from McKay for the preceding six months (University of Pennsylvania). [back]
  • 4. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. On August 25 Rossetti wrote to Whitman: "You will believe that I received with pride & warm feeling the love wh. you sent me in a letter to Gilchrist, . . . & that I reciprocate your love with reverential affection." [back]
  • 6. A facsimile of this letter was made by Gilchrist and, according to his letter of September 5, was printed in The Athenaeum on August 22 and in the London Daily News on August 24. The New York Times copied the article in The Athenaeum on September 4. [back]
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