Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 17 September 1891

Date: September 17, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04386

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 Oct 2 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

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



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Medical Superintendent's
Office.
INSANE ASYLUM
LONDON ONTARIO1
17 Sept.br 1891

My dearest Friend,

I write this in Dr's2 office3—(3. 10 pm) Dr. busy—asks me to give you his love. Day gloriously fine—warm as one of our hottest Midsummer days.—We are going to drive soon to the cricket ground here (in front of Refractory Wards) to watch a cricket match for a short time. Much cooler to watch it than to take part in it!

I was very proud & happy this morning to receive your letter of the 13th,4 & the batch of papers you sent me. Thank you from my heart. It stirs me very deeply that you should trouble to write in your present circumstances, & nothing that you have ever done seems more characteristic of the love which your whole life exemplifies. Love to you in return—deep & tender & lifelong.

And thank you for your advice (to "tie up" &c) so full of tender sympathy & kindness.—

I am glad that you "continue same as before" which means really—as you say—"thankful it's no worse" I understand well that at best it is "bad enough." I could wish it were otherwise if I were not convinced that a divine purpose underlies it all. It seems to be your lot—as Symonds5 says—to teach us not only to live, but how to suffer & to die. That there "is all fullness to reward you," I do not doubt,—to reward you, personally—As for us, well, our loving sympathy only goes out to you all the more deeply & tenderly.—And all future generations of your lovers will think of you with "more tender love.—

I thank you for Ernest Rhys's6 letter,7 & will write to him on my return.

Since I began this Dr. & I have had a drive together to the Cricket Ground—staying there about 10 minutes—match between "Doctors V Lawyers"—Drs just out for about 147 runs—Dr. Beemer8 scoring over 60.

Mail just come in with 3 English letters for me—Father,9 Dr J,10 & RK Greenhalgh.11 Letters never tasted so good to me as they do now!

Am impatient to read them, & will close. Please give my love to Mrs Davis12 & to Warry13—& to Traubel14 & his wife.15 With supreme love to you & constant thoughts & good wishes

Yours affectionately
J.W. Wallace

PS/ Letter from father16 tells me of two magazines received from you—Thanks! Letter from RKG on Sep 9—supposes that I saw you that day—& says. "I feel the hour sacred & sweet, for I am sure today has seen the communion of two souls, both dear as life to me &c." Sends love to you.


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: LONDON | [illegible] | SP 17 | 91 | CANADA; CAMDEN, N.J. | SEP 19 | 12 [illegible]M | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. 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]

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. Wallace is referring here to Whitman's letter dated September 13–14, 1891[back]

5. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. 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). [back]

7. It is uncertain which letter is being referred to here. [back]

8. Dr. N. H. Beemer was in charge of the "Refractory Building" at Bucke's asylum and served as his first assistant physician. Whitman met Beemer during his visit there in the summer of 1880. See James H. Coyne, Richard Maurice Bucke: A Sketch (Toronto: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1906), 52. [back]

9. Little is known about James Wallace, Sr., who was a millwright. Wallace, Sr. and his wife Margaret Thornburrow Wallace, were the parents of James William Wallace, an architect in Bolton, England. [back]

10. Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) of Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was a physician, photographer, and avid cyclist. Johnston was trained in Edinburgh and served as a hospital surgeon in West Bromwich for two years before moving to Bolton, England, in 1876. Johnston worked as a general practitioner in Bolton and as an instructor of ambulance classes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. He served at Whalley Military Hospital during World War One and became Medical Superintendent of Townley's Hospital in 1917 (John Anson, "Bolton's Illustrious Doctor Johnston—a man of many talents," Bolton News [March 28, 2021]; Paul Salveson, Moorlands, Memories, and reflections: A Centenary Celebration of Allen Clarke's Moorlands and Memories [Lancashire Loominary, 2020]). Johnston, along with James W. Wallace, 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 Johnston, see Larry D. Griffin, "Johnston, Dr. John (1852–1927)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Richard Greenhalgh, a bank clerk and one of Whitman's Bolton admirers, frequently hosted annual celebrations of the poet's birthday. In his March 9, 1892, letter to Traubel, Greenhalgh wrote that "Walt has taught me 'the glory of my daily life and trade.' In all the departments of my life Walt entered with his loving personality & I am never alone" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 20, 1892). James Wallace described Greenhalgh as "undoubtedly a rich, royal, plain fellow, not given to ornate word or act" (Sunday, September 27, 1891). For more on Greenhalgh, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

12. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

14. 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]

15. Horace Traubel was married to Anne Montgomerie Traubel (b. 1864–1954). [back]

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


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