Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James William Wallace and John Johnston to Walt Whitman, 18 May 1887

Date: May 18, 1887

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.04404

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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54 Manchester Road Bolton1
111 Engle St Bolton
May 18th/87.

Dear Walt,

In no less familiar or colder terms can we bring ourselves to address you, the most loved of friends, though such a salutation from strangers to anyone but yourself would seem an impertinence

We, two friends chiefly united by our common love of you, wish to congratulate you on your birthday and express to you personally our very best wishes and love. To you we owe not only affection but endless gratitude and reverence. One of us, a doctor, owes to you entirely his spiritual enfranchisement & deliverance from soul-benumbing scepticism, into which, not without pain, he had gradually fallen. Your books are his constant companions, his spiritual nourishment, his continual study and delight. And not least of his debts to you is "the glory" you have shown him, "in his daily walk & trade" which you have ennobled and made beautiful for him.

The writer in many obstructions & difficulties is strengthened and comforted by your example and words. In past heavy bereavement (of a mother to whom he has often mentally applied the words you use of yours) your words have best tallied his deepest experience and hopes. For years he has been, and is, a lover and grateful student of Carlyle2 and, in turn, of Ruskin.3 He has also, on the other hand been long familiar with Emerson4 and reveres his memory. But your teaching, far more than Emerson's, has appealed to him as the fitting offset to and complement of theirs, and as a veritable "Gospel" bringing "glad tidings of great joy."

We both study your writings as much as possible, and glean every help that critiques and notices can give. We endeavor to assimilate them in our lives and try to introduce them to others. We occasionally call friends together in your name to spend "a Whitman evening", to read your books and talk about them. We shall not fail to do so on the 31st, and shall rejoice to believe that you know it and that there is a real communion between us, though far sundered

We are anxious to have the pleasure of giving you some little tangible token of our love. We do not know what else to send you so venture to ask you to accept a money present of £10. It will be a lifelong pleasure to us to feel that we have thus been in personal communication with you and that something you hold has been supplied by us.

Hoping you will do us this favour, and wishing you long continued health and strength. We are,

Yours gratefully and affectionately
John Johnston M.D.
J. W. Wallace.


Correspondent:
James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), a physician from Bolton, he founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. The address is written on the verso of this letter. The town name "Bolton" is linked to both Johnston's and Wallace's address via a bracket. [back]

2. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish writer who wrote frequently on the conflict between scientific changes and the traditional social (often religious) order. For Whitman's writings on Carlyle in Specimen Days, see "Death of Thomas Carlyle" and "Carlyle from American Points of View." [back]

3. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was an American poet and essayist who began the Transcendentalist movement with his 1836 essay Nature. On November 30, 1868, Whitman informed Ralph Waldo Emerson that "Proud Music of the Storm" was "put in type for my own convenience, and to ensure greater correctness." He asked Emerson to take the poem to James T. Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who promptly accepted it and published it in February 1869. For more on Emerson, see Jerome Loving, "Emerson, Ralph Waldo [1809–1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).  [back]


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