Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 9 October 1891

Date: October 9, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04400

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: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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79. North Portland Avenue Brooklyn. NY.1
9. Oct 1891

Dear Walt,

Here I am at your old friend Andrew Rome's,2 where I have received a very kind & homely welcome, exceedingly pleasant & grateful to me. He sits alongside the table as I write reading a newspaper, & asks me to give you his warmest regards & to say that he hopes to have an opportunity of seeing you shortly. (Have asked him to come to Camden with me3—if only for the day.—Will see about it.)

Have had a splendid day for my sail down the Hudson, & have enjoyed it from beginning to end.—The beautiful & luxuriously fitted steamboat was itself extremely interesting to begin with—Then the noble river with its beautiful banks on each side, of continually varying interest & beauty during the whole sail. The clear blue sky, the light clouds on the horizon shadowing the hills, the cool delicious air, were all stimulating & enjoyable. I struck up quite a friendship too with a young Massachusetts Doctor,4 & we "chummed" together as far as Yonkers where he landed.

Finally the arrival at New York. (Desbrosses St.) I doubt if anyone ever entered New York under more favourable & beautiful circumstances—The long, beautiful sail approaching it, culminating at the moment of arrival at our first stopping place—22nd Street—with a sunset of the most delicate loveliness, & wide-arching amplitude—the sky flecked with cirrus clouds glowing warm golden on the underside, delicate pearl above—the reflections in the river,—the rapidly moving & multitudinous boat ferries &c,—the cities on each bank—the wharves & steamers—all made up a living picture I shall never forget. The new moon hung in the sky, & the Statue of Liberty uplifed her electric light in the distance.

Then in the Annex boat to Brooklyn in the dusk, the Bridge lit along its whole course with lamps—Landing,—the Vanderbilt Avenue car, stopping about a block from here,—& arrival here, Mr Rome looking out for me at the gate.

A good letter from Traubel5 awaiting me tells me that Ingersoll6 will perhaps not speak on Monday night. In that case I will not come to Camden on Monday but will visit Long Island first. Will write again however.

Love to you always, & best prayers & wishes
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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Albany [illegible] | Oct | 9 | 91; Received | Oct | 9 | 11AM | 91 | Phila; Philadelphia [illegible] | Oct | 9 | 1130 AM | 91 | Transit; Camden, N.J. | Oct [illegible] | 1 PM | 91 | Rec'd. [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. 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]

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

5. 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]

6. 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]


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