Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 30 May 1888

Date: May 30, 1888

Editorial note: The annotation, "See notes July 23 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).

Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03328

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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THE UNION LEAGUE CLUB1
New York,
30th May, 1888.

Dear Poet,

I write to wish you all that you wish for yourself—all that is best, on your birthday to-morrow! I meant to have had the lines overleaf complete to send you for the day, but somehow they do not fall into the right order. However you will take the will for the deed, I know; & perhaps in a day or two I may be able to render them in a better shape, when I write again to tell you of my doings since I saw you last.

A splendid time to-night at Metropolitan Opera House,—listening to Col. Bob Ingersoll2. (Vide morning papers!) More of this anon. I am at Stedman's3. He sends birthday greetings.

With great love,
Ernest Rhys

To Walt Whitman—On his 69th birthday.

Here health I bring you in one draught of song.
Caught in my rhymester's cup from earth's delight
Where English fields are green the whole year long,—
The wine of night
That the new-come spring distills most sweet and strong
In the viewless air's alembic wrought too fine for sight.

Now shall all pain be gone for this one day,
As, drinking deep of this brimm'd wassail cup,
You feel the years uncoil & their travailing pass away,
Till, ere you drink it up,
Again the sun's quick fires you feel pulse brainward through the blood,
Again, as when in youth they pulsed, making the world seem good.

For this the magic wine,
That, tasted by the chosen lips, makes Life as long as thought,—
Elixir this long sought,
Filled of the sun & the wind & all green growing things,
The salt of the sea & the sweet of the earth,
And the potencies of death & birth,—
That tasted once makes men as gods & the common world divine.


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: To Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle Street, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: NEW YORK | [illegible] 7 | 12 M | F; Camden [illegible] | [illegible] | [illegible] | REC'D. [back]

2. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

3. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) was a man of diverse talents. He edited for a year the Mountain County Herald at Winsted, Connecticut, wrote "Honest Abe of the West," presumably Lincoln's first campaign song, and served as correspondent of the New York World from 1860 to 1862. In 1862 and 1863 he was a private secretary in the Attorney General's office until he entered the firm of Samuel Hallett and Company in September, 1863. The next year he opened his own brokerage office. He published many volumes of poems and was an indefatigable compiler of anthologies, among which were Poets of America, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885) and A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, 11 vols. (New York: C. L. Webster, 1889–90). For more, see Donald Yannella, "Stedman, Edmund Clarence (1833–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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