Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 26 November 1886
Date: November 26, 1886
Editorial note: The annotation, "Rhys," is in an unknown hand.
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.03315
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock
59 Cheyne Walk
26.th Novr. '86
Dear Walt Whitman,
I have been waiting all this time for the right mood and the right day to send a letter to you, but I must not wait any longer now, though there is a fog outside & a fog or something of the sort in my head. Since coming back here from the country three weeks ago, there has been such a lot to do that I have got out of touch with the natural order & spirit of things, & these London fogs are enough to make the animal in one turn absolute coward. With sunlight or a flying wind or a good rain I am happy enough, but I cannot stand these smoke-soiled days. They make me feel stupid & wicked.
But I ought not to grumble like this, & I won't any more. For I had a splendid ten weeks of autumn in Wales & the West of England. In North Wales—at a place called Llwyngwril, a primitive little village, quite away from town-ways & fashions, I stayed for four weeks with my dear friend Herbert Horne at a farm-house close to the sea-shore. There we bathed & mountaineered & drank our fill of mountain wind & sunshine, & I rambled off once right round by Snowdon to Carnarvon, where the remnant of the Cymric races were holding their Eisteddfod. There is a wonderful old castle at Carnarvon, & within its walls on a bright September morning it impressed me strangely (being half Cymric in blood myself) to see those old grey-bearded, venerable fellows, in their mystic circle, uttering those wonderful Druidic prayers (which are purely theistic) & eloquently orating in a way utterly unlike our English fashion; for the Welsh orators make their voices almost sing sometimes, & their language is much more plastic & various, like a more southern tongue. Their improvised harp-songs,—Penillion-singing, are very striking too,—quaint, wild tunes that would delight you, I am sure, so full as they are of natural music & feeling. Unhappily I don't know enough of the language to understand all, but I heard & saw enough to make me feel that there was a great deal of tremendous value for our Saxon materialistic minds in the spirit of imaginative idealism that underlies the Cymric expression of life, now as in the past. There is something to me greatly inspiring to think of the international elements, Celtic, Cymric, Sclavonic, Gallic, that our Saxon stock must assimilate to itself to new ends of human growth & perfection as time goes by. And for this of course America is the grand field of development!
A few days back W. S. Kennedy's2 new book about you arrived here from Chatto & Windus, & in reading it & looking at relative passages in "Specimen Days" & "Leaves of Grass," the thought of the American future has filled me with a new impetus. But I must not dwell upon this now, as there are other things to settle. I must just say about Kennedy's book, however, that I have every hope of being able to place it satisfactorily with some publisher. I am waiting now to hear from Fred. Wilson, of W. & McCormick & you may be sure I will do all I can for the book. There is a great deal in it about L. of G. & about yourself intimately, which I find unspeakably stimulative & tonic. It will cause something like a sensation when it appears,—amongst those who know L. of G. at any rate. Having it in my drawer or on the table as I write, it makes me feel as if you yourself had been in the room, bringing health & virile stimulus.
This brings me to "Specimen Days" which I am proud to think will appear in the Camelot series. Thanks very many for letting me have it! I will get as much as I can out of the publishers; for as Walter Scott is one of the largest railway contractors, as well as a publisher, & well stocked with money, I have no scruple on that score. It is not easy in any case to get much out of him, unfortunately. For my own sake, as well as yours, I wish it were! As for cutting the book down, it seems wicked to think of it; but it is really rather longer than they find it pays to give for a shilling, & if you will do the emendation yourself, one may feel less sore about it. Including the appendix (which is of course in smaller type) there are about 70 pages more than the publishers like to have in the Camelot volumes, so if you will revise the book to make it about 300 pages, it will answer capitally. Is it too much to ask you for a few fresh words of introduction as well, addressed to the English reader?
I hope we shall soon be ready now too to print the 2nd Edn of the selected Leaves of Grass. In the paper you sent me I noticed your admonition about tampering with your full expression in them, & have thought over it very seriously, besides asking Dr Bucke's opinion about issuing a 2nd Edn at all of my little book. He strongly advises the re-issue, however, looking at it, as I do, as an important makeshift which will help the perfect presentment to a hearing presently. He advises too the inclusion of "The Song of Myself" instead of some of the other poems. Herbert Gilchrist3 (whom I expect to see this evening) has promised me a new portrait too.
yours, with great love,
Dr Bucke4 has hospitably pressed me to go & see him next summer, holding out the inducement of your being at his place. Ah, how I should like it to be possible!
I ought5 to have said with regard to "Specimen Days" & the Camelot requirements, that the vol. of King Arthur contains a great deal more than the publishers can really afford to give. The first vol. they looked upon as a sort of pilot for the rest, & put an extra amount in accordingly.
Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).
1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman. | 328. Mickle Street. | Camden. | New Jersey | United States of America. It is postmarked: SOUTH KENSINGTON S. W. | 34 | NO26 | 86; PAID | E | ALL; New York | DEC | 6; CAMDEN | DEC 7 | 7AM | 1886 | REC'D. [back]
2. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman , 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
3. 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). [back]
4. Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
5. Rhys has inserted this postscript on the first page of the letter. [back]