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Walt Whitman to Anne Gilchrist, 23–26 June [1878]

Dear Mrs Gilchrist (& all the rest)

I sent you a postal card from N Y​ & a paper with an acc't of the Bryant funeral, which I suppose you rec'd1—I came up here last Thursday afternoon, in a fine steamboat2—had a delightful journey—a fine day & everything to interest me—the constantly changing but ever-beautiful panorama on both sides of the river all the way, (nearly 100 miles up here)—the magnificent north river bay part of the city—the high straight walls of the rocky Palisades—the never ending hills—beautiful Yonkers—the endless succession of handsome villages & cities—the prevailing green—the great rocky mountains, gray & brown—the river itself, now expanding, now narrowing—the glistening river with continual sloops, yachts, &c. their white sails singly or in fleets, some near, some in the distance—the numberless elegant mansions in spots peeping through the woods, or perch'd somewhere back on the hills—&c &c &c—& here I am—this is now the fourth day, having a good time—Mr Burroughs & his wife are as kind as they can be—We have plenty of strawberries, cream, &c. and something I specially like, namely plenty of sugared raspberries & currants mixed together (I go out & pick the currants myself, great red things, bushels of them going to waste)—

Albert Johnston, (the gentleman's son, at whose house I am staying in N Y) is here too on a visit to the Burroughs's—makes it more agreeable3—Yesterday we all (Mr B, Al, & I) went out on a long drive—I took in every thing—the old stone fences two feet thick—the peculiar scenery, hilly & broken & rocky—the long rows of splendid locust trees—the "balm of Gilead" perfuming the road—the streams down the mountains, with waterfalls—"Black Creek" brawling along—the Cattskills in the distance, with mist around their peaks—All did me good—It is lucky the roads are first [rate] here, (as they are) for it is either up or down hill constantly, & often steep enough—We pass'd many tramps on the road—this seems a great region for them—One squad specially interested me—it was a family of five (or six) in a smallish, flat, ricketty one-horse wagon, with a few poor household traps, & some baskets (the folks were basket makers), in the midst of all of which were huddled two or three young children—On a low board in front of the wagon, the man (gaunt dirty middle aged) was driving—the woman by his side, thin & sickly, & a little babe wrapt in a bundle on her lap, its little red feet & legs sticking out toward us as we passed—

On our return at sundown we met them again—they had hauled aside at a lonesome spot near the woods evidently to camp for the night—the horse was unhitched & taken out, & was grazing peacefully near by—the man was busy at the wagon with something—the little boy had gather'd a lot of dry wood & was building a fire on the open ground—& as we went on a little on the road we encounter'd the woman still carrying her baby, & a pretty-eyed 6 year old girl trotting barefoot behind, clutching her by the gown—the woman was carrying two or three baskets (she had doubtless been on to the neighboring houses to sell, & was now returning)—We stopt & spoke to her & bought a basket—She didn't look up at all out of the recesses of her old sunbonnet—her voice, manner, seem'd so queer, terrified—then as we went on Al stopt the wagon, & ran back to the group to buy another basket—he caught a look of the woman's face, & talk'd with her a little—says she was young, but seem'd more like an animated corpse than any thing else—poor woman—what was her story?4

Shall go back to New York to-morrow afternoon—will finish my letter there—To-day, Sunday (now 11½ a m) Mrs B[urroughs] has driven to church—Mr B is off somewhere—Al ditto—I seem to be alone in the house, every thing quiet, only natural sounds, birds, &c. for nearly an hour—a beautiful expanded view from the large open windows as I write—Before Mr B went out I told him I was going to write to you—He told me to send you & all his love, & say he got Herbert's letter yesterday—

1309 5th avenue near 86th St. New York—June 26 p m

Dear friend—

Here I am back again in N Y—Came down the river Monday night, & shall stay here a few (but not many) days longer—I find it hard to get away—Yesterday went on a sail down N Y bay to Sandy Hook with a party of Sorosis ladies—they spoke of Miss Hillard—had a fine sail, good sea air—dinner on board—got back at dark5—rec'd your letter yesterday morning—thanks—

Debby6 was married June 13th—my dear nieces are at Stevens st. Camden—all well, including my sister & brother—

Best love to you, & to Bee, Herbert, & Giddy— Walt Whitman


  • 1. This card is evidently not extant. The newspaper must have been the New York Sun of June 15. See the letter from Walt Whitman to George and Louisa Whitman of June 15–17, 1878. [back]
  • 2. The parallels with the published account of this trip in the Tribune on July 4 indicate that Whitman retained a draft of this or of his letter to Mannahatta Whitman of June 22–26, 1878. The account in Specimen Days is condensed (Floyd Stovall, ed. [New York: New York University Press, 1963], 167). [back]
  • 3. The printed version in the Tribune adds the detail that upon rising "I have a capital rubbing and rasping with the flesh-brush—with an extra scour on the back by Al: J., who is here with us—all inspiriting my invalid frame with new life, for the day." (See also Specimen Days, 168). For Albert Johnston's recollection of this trip, see Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades [Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931], 176–177). [back]
  • 4. The Tribune account of the gypsy concluded: "Poor woman—what story was it, out of her fortunes, to account for that inexpressibly scared way, those glassy eyes, and that hollow voice?" (See also Specimen Days, 169). [back]
  • 5. The version of this trip which appeared in the Tribune mentioned the owner of the boat, David G. Croly, the editor of the New York Daily Graphic. See the letter from Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of March 7, 1873. [back]
  • 6. Deborah Stafford had married Joseph Browning. [back]
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