Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 8 October 1891

Date: October 8, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04399

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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8. Oct 1891
7. pm

Dear Walt,

Here I am in Albany on my way south.1 I leave here by the 8 o'clock boat tomorrow morning for New York, & expect to arrive at about 5 pm. I shall probably stay with A. H. Rome2 (Brooklyn) till Monday morning, & then come on to Camden.

I left Port Hope yesterday morning & crossed Lake Ontario to Charlotte for Rochester. I didn't get so much enjoyment from crossing the lake as I hoped for, as the day was dull with strong winds. And though not actually seasick, I was nearer it than I ever was before, & more or less uncomfortable during most of the time! But I got some enjoyment from it notwithstanding.

It was a little after six when I got to Rochester, & I decided to stay there all night.—Left @ 9-55 this morning arriving at Albany @ 4.50. Though the morning was dull, it cleared up & the afternoon has been beautiful & I have enjoyed the ride very much indeed—especially down the lovely valley of Mohawk River.

I hope for a good time tomorrow on the Hudson, & shall be glad at the close to see Mr Rome—& to receive letters & news of you. (Have received no letters since last Monday but one.)

I hope with all my heart that things have gone well with you & that when I do hear, the news will be good. I am quite longing for letters—from Camden & from Bolton.

My coming to Camden on Monday will be contingent on Ingersoll's3 lecturing that evening—as I want to hear him. But if he does not, I propose to visit West Hills before coming.

I was startled today to see the news of Parnell's4 death. Poor fellow! His turbulent career is ended so!

Dear Walt, dearest of friends, it is not without some trepidation that I come to see you again. For you will be "disillusioned"! But my love to you only grows deeper with time, & though that doesn't count for much, I come as the agent of friends5 whose love does count, & whom I am sure that you too would love. (Though, for the matter of that, whom do you not love?)

And I feel almost as though not only my friends are represented (unworthily) by me, but as though there were more between us than that. For when I saw you, you reminded me strangely & strongly of my dear mother,6 & I almost felt as though she too were present, & that you were her messenger & representative. And however fanciful that idea may seem (though I felt it strongly at the time) yet I am sure that a higher Presence still was there, & that God himself, who had led me to you, blessed me far beyond my deserts or old time anticipation in permitting me to see you. God bless you for all you have done & been to me & to my friends (lovers of you). I write lamely, but warm hearts—manly & true—in Bolton beat in unison with all I can say of love & gratitude & blessing.

Yours affectionately
J W Wallace

James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, 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).


1. Wallace visited Whitman in Camden, New Jersey, and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke at Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada, in the fall of 1891. He also spent time in New York during the trip. Accounts of Wallace's visit can be found in Dr. John Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). Approximately one week after writing this letter, Wallace would return to Camden, New Jersey, on October 15th. [back]

2. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the assistance of his brother Tom, printed Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) in a small shop at the intersection of Fulton and Cranberry in Brooklyn. It was likely the first book the firm ever printed. [back]

3. 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]

4. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–1891) was an Irish Nationalist politician, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and a member of Parliament. Parnell reacted to the First Home Rule Bill, a move toward self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom, with a mix of support and critique. The bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1886. For more on Parnell, see Paul Bew, "Parnell, Charles Stewart, (1846–1891)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). [back]

5. Wallace is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman, that he and the English physician Dr. John Johnston co-founded. [back]

6. Little is known about Margaret Thornburrow Wallace. She and her husband James Wallace, Sr., a millwright, were the parents of the architect James William Wallace of Bolton, England. [back]


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