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Walt Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist, 30 November 1885

Sprague Collection No 35.  upa.00080.001_large.jpg Dear Herbert Gilchrist

What on earth can I say to you in response to the news about your dearest mother in my2 letter rec'd this morning?—words are such weak things any how in so deep & solemn a case—makes me heavy hearted indeed, & have been so, all the day. As it is I can only send best best love & thoughts dwelling with her all the time3—I have seriously considered coming to London—but it seems impossible—I am still here—my eyesight is less disturbed, is nearly ab't as formerly—but my walking power worse than ever—they have to half carry me out to the wagon to take the only little exercise I get every day—but my spirits remain cheery & buoyant as ever—I eat and sleep fairly—am so far without any pain of violence—& still have my good & kind housekeeper Mrs. Davis—Have just rec'd the third instalment (31 pounds 19 shillings) of the good English "offering" from Wm Rossetti—(some 49 pounds previously,—making 81 pounds or thereabout altogether so far rec'd)4—and I can assure you it has been  upa.00080.002_large.jpg all most acceptable to me—& heart's thanks to you all—I was down yesterday to the Staffords' at Glendale.5—O how I wish I could see your dearest mother—again my best, deepest love to her.

Walt Whitman  loc.02181.001_large.jpg  loc.02181.002_large.jpg

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: Herbert H Gilchrist | 12 Well Road | Hampstead | London | England. It is postmarked: CAMDEN | NOV 30 | 4 PM | 1885 | N.J.; NEW YORK | NOV 30 | 12 PM | 85; LONDON. N.W. | M Z | DE 11 | 85. [back]
  • 2. Whitman's error. [back]
  • 3. On September 29 Gilchrist reported to Whitman that "Mother is very sickly." On November 18 he said: "Her condition is critical. Four years ago our dear mother was attacked by cancer with left breast. . . . Her strength seems daily ebbing and her heart is very weak." Mrs. Gilchrist died the day before Whitman sent this letter. The son wrote with deep emotion on December 2: "The lovely spirit fled on Sunday afternoon at five o'clock. . . . Ten days ago mother asked me if I had written to you. . . . on her tomb I shall find a line from Leaves of Grass. In a little memoranda addressed to us she noted your name down as the one friend in America to whom we were to write to, in announcing darling mother's death. She died in my arms." [back]
  • 4. See the letter from Whitman to William Michael Rossetti of November 30, 1885. [back]
  • 5. Whitman was in Atlantic City on November 28 and at Glendale on the following day (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]
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