Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 7 December 1889

Date: December 7, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03341

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

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Ashlyn Stewart, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock

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24 Warwick Lane,
7th Dec. '89.

Dear Walt Whitman,

I was glad to have the Birthday1 book2 the other day, with its record of so many friendly voices. Traubel3 was very good to let mine be heard so prominently in the throng. I believe I even blushed a little to find my lines so bravely in evidence.

As I write, the snow is falling, & the sky is leaden overhead. A regular English winter's day! I wonder if it is the same at Camden whose streets and ferries I remember best under wintry aspects. At present I am quartered at Hampstead,—not far away from Gilchrist's4 house in Well Road, tell him!

Hampstead is by far the highest part of London, & this cottage is very near the top of the Heath, approaching 500 feet above the sea. I find it much healthier than the low-lying parts near the river. After the Welsh mountain winds, the regular London air is rather trying,—no oxygen, no stimulus, in it!

There is much at Hampstead that you would like. The high road that runs along the top of the Heath, (called the Spaniards Road, & passing an old inn where Skittles are still played, called "The Spaniards"), has a fine view down to London on the south & the open country on the north. It is a fine walk either on a bright morning, or at night when the glamour in the sky & the glitter of Camps below & the hum of the city tell that the monster, London, lies there, hydra-like, with pains untold & pleasures extreme in his various heads.

Edith5 & I went to call on Miss Gilchrist6 on Sunday last, & found her very well. She said that her brother would probably be home in February. Some of his friends were beginning to think he meant to settle oversea for good. I suppose he is waiting to astonish us with a magnum opus.

We have a young American novelist over here at present with his wife,—Henry Harland7 ("Sidney Luska.") They are very bright & interesting, more rapid & restless than we slow Englischers. He however in his turn seems to be astonished at the immense amount of hard writing that English men of letters get through. "It is your sedative climate which makes the difference," he says in discussing it. There's no doubt that the English climate does tend to concentrate one's energies.

For my own part, I feel now that concentration is the one thing that I lack. Too many distractions in this hydra-headed London. It would be good to retire for seven years to some mountain solitude, & there, hermit-like, work out the purposes of one's destiny,—as Carlyle did. Meanwhile this probation in a world's city is helpful & good, fortunately, in other ways.

I suppose you had copies of the 'Illustrated London News' with your portrait.8 It figured well in the shop-windows here.

With hearty regards to all friends.
Earnest Rhys

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. For Whitman's seventieth birthday, Horace Traubel and a large committee planned a local celebration for the poet in Morgan's Hall in Camden, New Jersey. The committee included Henry (Harry) L. Bonsall, Geoffrey Buckwalter, and Thomas B. Harned. See Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 7, 1889. The day was celebrated with a testimonial dinner. Numerous authors and friends of the poet prepared and delivered addresses to mark the occasion. Whitman, who did not feel well at the time, arrived after the dinner to listen to the remarks. [back]

2. The notes and addresses that were delivered at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in Camden, on May 31, 1889, were collected and edited by Horace Traubel. The volume was titled Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman, and it included a photo of Sidney Morse's 1887 clay bust of Whitman as the frontispiece. The book was published in 1889 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. [back]

3. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. 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]

5. Rhys may be referring to his sister, Edith. Edwin Haviland Miller speculates that the "Edith" Whitman refers to in his June 26, 1887, letter to Rhys is Rhys's sister. See especially note 2. [back]

6. Grace Gilchrist Frend (1859–1947) was one of Anne Gilchrist's four children and Herbert's sister. She became a contralto. She was the author of "Walt Whitman as I Remember Him" (Bookman 72 [July 1927], 203–205). [back]

7. Henry Harland was an American author who wrote under the pseudonym Sidney Luska (Josh Lambert, "As It Was Written: A Jewish Musician's Story [1885] by Sidney Luska, American Jewish Fiction, [Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009], 14–15). [back]

8. A wood engraving of Whitman by the German engraver Moritz Klinkicht (1845–?) was published as a supplement to the Illustrated London News for November 16, 1889. [back]


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