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Walt Whitman to William M. Rossetti, 9 December 1869

Dear Mr. Rossetti,

Your letter of last summer to William O'Connor1 with the passages transcribed from a lady's correspondence have been shown me by him, and a copy lately furnished me, which I have just been re-reading. I am deeply touched by these sympathies & convictions coming from a woman, & from England, & am sure that if the lady knew how much comfort it has been to me to get them, she would not only pardon you for transmitting them to Mr. O'Connor, but approve that action.2 I realize indeed of such an emphatic & smiling Well done from the heart & conscience of a true wife & mother, & one too whose sense of the poetic, as I glean from your letter, after flowing through the heart & conscience, also comes through & must satisfy Science, as much as the esthetic, that I had hitherto received no eulogium so magnificent.3

I send by same mail with this, same address as this letter, two photographs, taken within a few months. One is intended for the lady (if I may be permitted to send it her)—and will you please accept the other with my respects & love? The picture is by some criticized very severely indeed, but I hope you will not dislike it, for I confess myself to a (perhaps capricious) fondness for it as my own portrait over some scores that have been made or taken at one time or another.

I am still at work in the Attorney General's office. My p. o. address remains the same, here. I am, & have been, quite well & hearty. My new editions, considerably expanded, with what suggestions &c. I have to offer, presented, I hope, in more definite, graphic form, will probably get printed, the coming spring. I shall forward you early copies.

I send my love to Moncure Conway,4 if you see him. I wish he would write to me, soon & fully. If the pictures don't reach you, or if they get injured on the way, I will try again by express. I wish you to read or loan this letter to the lady—or, if she wishes it, give it to her to keep.

Walt Whitman


  • 1. William Michael Rossetti sent on July 13, 1869, what O'Connor termed a "precious enclosure," extracts from Anne Gilchrist's correspondence with the English critic. In his letter Rossetti described Gilchrist: "The writer is a lady of earlyish middle age, & more than common literary cultivation. She is a person of remarkably strong sense, firm perception, solidity of judgment, with a rather strong scientific turn. My impression is that hitherto she has cared very little about poetry. …If I had been asked how this lady would receive Whitman's poems, I should have replied—'She will glance into them, set them aside in her own mind as eccentric unavailable sort of work, & never touch the book again.' And see how utterly I should have been mistaken. The result fairly astonishes me" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Writing to Rossetti on August 28, 1869, O'Connor was obviously deeply moved, though he did not know "the dear lady's name," and he noted that, after reading the extracts, Walt Whitman's "Olympian front was surcharged with a tender pensiveness" (Rossetti Papers [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903], 459–460). [back]
  • 2. In his letter to O'Connor, Rossetti said: "I have not told her that I communicate her letters to any one" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). But in his diary on July 23, 1869, he noted that he had informed Anne Gilchrist of his action (Rossetti Papers [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons], 404). Gilchrist began to expand her comments in September, and on November 19, 1869, Rossetti "finished transcribing Mrs Gilchrist's paper on Whitman"; see Rossetti Papers [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903], 411, 415, and Letters of William Michael Rossetti, ed. Clarence Gohdes and Paull Franklin Baum (Durham: Duke University Press, 1934), 27–45. At the time Whitman wrote to Rossetti, he probably had received the new version. [back]
  • 3. Though Walt Whitman did not realize that Anne Gilchrist's passion included his person as well as his poetry, this letter, which Rossetti gave to her, served to inflame her ardor. See her letter to Rossetti on January 1, 1870 (Rossetti Papers [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903], 497). [back]
  • 4. On January 9, 1870, Rossetti informed Walt Whitman that he had conveyed "your cordial message" to Conway, who had recently returned from Russia. [back]
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