Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 14 October 1891

Date: October 14, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04403

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: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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14. Oct. 1891

Dear Walt,

A few lines to you before going out.—A better morning than yesterday & rather promising.

I went to N.Y. yesterday afternoon2 & took a car to Union Square. Johnston3 was just leaving the shop when I arrived, on a pressing business engagement, but gave me a most cordial reception, invited me to come again today & introduced me to his daughter May.4

I talked with her for 10 or 15 minutes, & was very much pleased with the cordial affectionate way in which she spoke of "uncle Walt." Only that morning she said, her youngest brother (aged 9)5 had been asking to be taken soon to see uncle Walt. And it was very evident from her whole speech & manner that they all regard you with genuine human affection. And when I left she commissioned me to give her best love to you.

I then went to Walker St. to see Williamson6 & spent 15 minutes with him. He is living out of town just now & had a train to catch. But he was as friendly as could be & seemed pleased to hear about you. I quite enjoyed my short interview with him. Looks well & in good spirits.

Am going out shortly to see Bush.7 Rome8 is arranging to have the afternoon with me, & we will go to New York together & call on Johnston.

Nothing could be more quietly & genuinely homely, more considerate & gentle in its kindness than my reception & treatment here

I like them all very much indeed, & consider it a privilege to know them. It is quite moving & pathetic to me at times to see the wistful look (as of a feeling deep & inarticulate) that comes into Rome's face when we talk of you.

But I trust that we shall both see you for a short time tomorrow. (Don't know yet what time we shall arrive. But we will go to Traubel's9 first—perhaps about 11.30 there.)

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: NEW Y[ORK] | OCT 14 | 1130 AM | 91; CAMDEN, N.J. | OCT 4 | 4 PM | 91 | REC'D. [back]

2. 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). [back]

3. John H. Johnston (1837–1919) was a New York jeweler and close friend of Whitman. Johnston was also a friend of Joaquin Miller (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, August 14, 1888). Whitman visited the Johnstons for the first time early in 1877. In 1888 he observed to Horace Traubel: "I count [Johnston] as in our inner circle, among the chosen few" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, October 3, 1888). See also Johnston's letter about Whitman, printed in Charles N. Elliot, Walt Whitman as Man, Poet and Friend (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1915), 149–174. For more on Johnston, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Mary Frances (May) Johnston (1862–1957) was the daughter of John H. Johnston (1837–1919) and his first wife Amelia Johnston. She was the younger sister of Bertha Johnston (1872–1953), who was involved in the suffrage movement. May later married Arthur Levi, of London, England ("Mrs. A. C. Johnston, Author, Dies at 72," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle [May 3, 1917], 3). [back]

5. John H. Johnston (1837–1919), who was married first to Amelia Johnston and, later, to Alma Calder Johnston (1843–1917) had three sons: Albert Edward, Carroll Hugh, and Calder Johnston. The youngest brother may be Calder Johnston. [back]

6. George M. Williamson (b. 1850) was a New York book collector who contacted Whitman several times about purchasing manuscripts, and later published Catalogue of A Collection of Books, Letters, and Manuscripts written by Walt Whitman, in the Library of George M. Williamson, Grand View on Hudson (New York: The Marion Press, 1903). Other items in Williamson's collection, which was sold at auction in 1908, included George Washington's copy of Don Quixote, a presentation copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline," Nathaniel Hawthorne's annotated copy of The Scarlet Letter, and "a very remarkable collection of Walt Whitman's works" (The George M. Williamson Collection [Anderson Galleries, Inc., 1908]). [back]

7. H. D. Bush was an engineer involved in projects ranging from bridge construction to general contracting. He later served as the President of the American Society of Civil Engineers. A friend of Whitman's, Bush attended Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday celebration in Camden. Bush wrote to Whitman on January 12, 1892, to thank the poet for sending a copy of what has become known as the "deathbed edition" of Leaves of Grass (1891–1892). [back]

8. 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]

9. 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]


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