Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 16 September 1891

Date: September 16, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04383

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Sept. 21 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock



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INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON
ONTARIO1
16 Sep. 1891

My dear Walt Whitman /

Our friend H.L.T.2 set rather a bad precedent immediately after my coming here!3 For 3 days in succession he wrote each day to the Dr.4 & to me. But yesterday no letter came at all. Of course, this was only what one could reasonably expect, but after so much pampering & indulgence one becomes unreasonable. And, as he said in his last letter that you had reported a miserable day, I cannot help feeling anxious about you. However, the morning's mail will soon be here, & we shall perhaps hear something of you—or, more probably this afternoon.

I intended to write to you last night but hadn't a good opportunity.

Yesterday morning was a little showery, but warm. Dr. & I drove down to town, & amongst other things called at Edy's.5 The photo taken of Dr. the other day was not a success (Dr. had moved) so he had to sit again, & two negatives were taken.

Yesterday afternoon the annual Athletic Sports were held here, on the grounds in front of the Refractory Wards.6 The weather turned out gloriously fine, & the sports were very successful & went off without any hitch. Quite a crowd of spectators, officials, employe's, patients, &c, & the whole scene was very pretty & picturesque. The patients were entirely well behaved & all seemed more or less happy.—The relationship between all classes entirely human, simple & kind.

The Revd Mr. Richardson7 had promised to come, & I had quite looked forward to meeting him as the chief event of the day for me. I knew that he had met you here—is mentioned in Dr's book—& hoped to get some reminiscences & facts from him. But I was disappointed. He was very pleasant & kind, & I had quite a long talk with him, but found at the close that I had got nothing of any importance. God speed him & good wishes to him!

Quite a lot of people here to tea.—Rev.d & Mrs Richardson, another Rev.d ("Short'8?)—Drs brother, W.J. Gurd,9 Mrs10 & Miss Bucke11 from London, another niece—also Miss Bucke12—& two or three little girls.13

Drs brother14 & W.J. Gurd had just returned from a month's "camping" in Muskoka & were quite enthusiastic about it. Some talk too of Canadian politics, English ditto, which I quietly listened to & noted.—

Later four of us drove off in carriage—Dr. calling in at Dr. Sippi's15—I going on to town with his brother, & W.J.G. & afterwards driving back to Sippi's for Dr. most lovely moonlight night—Jupiter large, lustrous, regal. Arriving at home Dr. got his glass out—could see three of Jupiter's moons,—one with the naked eye.

This morning eventful to the household here—Pardee16 went away @ 8 o'clock for Toronto. a youth from Toronto—(Archie17—the Inspector's son)—who has been staying here for 7 weeks—along with him. Miss Gurd18 (Mrs B's cousin) to Sarnia19 Mrs B. with her for the day.

Just as I had finished the foregoing Dr called for me to accompany him to town, & brought me two letters from Traubel. I was delighted to find that you had been out on Sunday with beneficial results.

What a wonderful fellow H.L.T. is! That he should be a devoted son to you is not surprising; but that he should be so zealous, ardent, & affectionate towards us is astonishing! I wonder continually how he gets time for all his work, & energy to support him through it all. But he is a true son of yours in his generous comradeship.

He forwarded me a letter from my old school chum, & dear friend always, Fred Wild.20 "Tell Walt," he says, "that I love him all the time." And that he means it, from the bottom of his heart, I know very well.

I write this @ 1.30 pm. Day gloriously fine—sky almost cloudless.—I wish you were here to sit on the Verandah & to look out on the beautiful grounds in front, with their dappled shade & sunshine.

But the messenger will be here soon, & as I want to write to Traubel before he comes I will close.

With a heart full of love to you always, & all good wishes,

Yours affectionately,
J.W. Wallace


Correspondent:
James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (1852–1927), 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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. It is postmarked: CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP 18 | 3 PM | '91 | REC'D; [illegible] | PM | SP 15 | 91 | CANADA. [back]

2. 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 mid-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]

3. At the time of this letter, Wallace was on a trip to visit both Dr. Bucke and Whitman. Accounts of these visits can be found in Wallace and Dr. John Johnston's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [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. Edy Brothers was a London, Ontario, photographic studio; they took several photographs of Whitman while he was in London in 1881 visiting Dr. Bucke. [back]

6. Wallace enclosed a a detailed program for the Fourth Annual Athletic Sports event at the Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario. Images of the program appear after the images of the letter. [back]

7. Reverend George L. Richardson (b. 1834) was a London, Ontario, Methodist minister, who in 1881, when Whitman visited London, had talked with the poet about the role of religion and science in Leaves of Grass and about his views of the orator and agnostic Robert Ingersoll; Dr. Bucke describes these conversations in his 1884 book Walt Whitman (p. 67). [back]

8. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

9. William John Gurd (1845–1903) was Richard Maurice Bucke's brother-in-law, with whom he was designing a gas and fluid meter to be patented in Canada and sold in England. Bucke believed the meter would be worth "millions of dollars," while Whitman remained skeptical, sometimes to Bucke's annoyance. In a March 18, 1888, letter to William D. O'Connor, Whitman wrote, "The practical outset of the meter enterprise collapsed at the last moment for the want of capital investors." For additional information, see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 17, 1889, Monday, March 18, 1889, Friday, March 22, 1889, and Wednesday, April 3, 1889. [back]

10. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Jessie married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

11. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

12. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

13. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

14. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

15. Dr. Charles Sippi (1843–1947) was the bursar at the asylum where Bucke worked. [back]

16. Wallace is referring to Bucke's son, Edward Pardee Bucke (1875–1913), apparently named after Dr. Bucke's friend Timothy Blair Pardee. [back]

17. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

18. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]

19. Sarnia is a city in Ontario, a hundred miles west of London. [back]

20. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [back]


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