Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 27 June 1890

Date: June 27, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04407

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from The Letters of Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke to Walt Whitman, ed. Artem Lozynsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Contributors to digital file: Ian Faith, Ryan Furlong, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton
nr Chorley
27. June 1890

Dear Walt Whitman,

Dr Johnston1 & I yesterday received the papers and book you kindly sent us, & thank you from our inmost hearts.

We have read the reports of the Celebration of your Birthday,2 and are especially pleased to note that your health is better than a recent newspaper paragraph stated.

The "Celebration" itself—like its predecessors—notwithstanding the presence of such men as Dr Bucke3 & Dr Brinton4—seems to us to have been very inadequate. But in 300 years from now men will appreciate you better as they have learned to appreciate Bruno.

I am delighted to have the little book on Bruno.5 Its instrinsic interest is very great to one who loves the memory of the great thinker.6 And my interest in him was freshened only 3 months ago by an excellent article in the "Atlantic."7—But I am especially proud to receive it as a present from you.

And now we have a further & still greater favour to ask from you!

Dr Johnston has been unwell of late and has been advised to take a sea-voyage. So he proposes to visit America. He will sail from Liverpool on Wednesday next (2nd July) per S.S. "British Prince" to Philadelphia & will cross over at once to Camden in the hope of seeing you. If you are sufficiently well, & it is otherwise convenient to you, will you kindly honour him with a short interview? If you can do so he will esteem it the most memorable privilege of his life.

He proposes to go from Camden to Long Island (perhaps, if possible, visiting Timber Creek first) to visit West Hills and some of the places associated with your early life, to spend most of his brief holiday there. Thence to New York & Brooklyn, where he will hunt up some of the places you mention in "Specimen Days" & will call upon Mr Rome,8 your old friend & publisher, & a distant relative of his own. Then a flying visit to a relative in Canada before returning.—

This, briefly, is his programme:—to take the voyage prescribed, and, during the fortnight or so permitted him ashore, to see you, & some of the places you have told us of.

It will be a life-long pleasure to us both if you can see him—though only for a few minutes—& perhaps advise him in one or two points as to the places he proposed to visit.

With all best wishes & with gratitude & love always,—Dr Johnston joining me—

I remain
Yours affectionately
J. W. Wallace

Walt Whitman
328, Mickle St.
Camden
New Jersey
US America


Correspondent:
James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Along with John Johnston (d. 1918), 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. Dr. John Johnston (d. 1918) was a physician from Bolton, England, who, 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 (d.1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. In honor of Whitman's 71st birthday, his friends gave him a birthday dinner on May 31, 1890, at Reisser's Restaurant in Philadelphia. The main speaker was Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, and there were also speeches by the physicians Richard Maurice Bucke and Silas Weir Mitchell. The Camden Daily Post article "Ingersoll's Speech" of June 2, 1890, was written by Whitman himself and was reprinted in Good-Bye My Fancy (Prose Works, 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [New York: New York University Press: 1963–1964], 686–687). "Honors to the Poet" appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1890. See also the notes on Whitman's birthday party in the poet's June 4, 1890, letter to Bucke. [back]

3. 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]

4. Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837–1899) was a surgeon in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and then practiced medicine in Pennsylvania. He went on to become a professor at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where he taught archaelogy and ethnology, and, later, he worked as a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Whitman admired Brinton, who would speak at the poet's funeral. [back]

5. Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) was an Italian Dominican friar and philosopher, whose notions of a vast and infinite cosmos, as well as his pantheism and denial of doctrines like the divinity of Christ and the virginity of Mary, got him tried for heresy beginning in 1593 and burned at the stake in Rome in 1600. [back]

6. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher and Martyr (1890) consisted of two speeches before the Philadelphia Contemporary Club by Daniel G. Brinton (1837–1899), a pioneer in the study of anthropology and a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and by Thomas Davidson (1840–1900), a Scottish philosopher and author. It included a prefatory note by Whitman dated February 24, 1890 (see The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892, ed. by Floyd Stovall, 2 vols. [1963–1964], 2:676–677). In his essay Brinton links the poet with Bruno in his rejection of the "Christian notion of sin as a positive entity" (34). On April 4, 1890, Whitman sent copies of the book to John Addington Symonds, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gabriel Sarrazin, T. H. Rolleston, and W. M. Rossetti (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). See also Whitman's April 11, 1890, letter to Bucke. After the poet presented him with a copy of Complete Poems & Prose, Brinton expressed his thanks effusively on April 12, 1890[back]

7. Johnston is referencing the following article: William R. Thayer, "The Trial, Opinions, and Death of Giordano Bruno," The Atlantic Monthly 65.389 (March 1890), 289–310. [back]

8. Andrew Rome, perhaps with the help 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]


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