Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 11 August 1891

Date: August 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04661

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: Kara Wentworth, Ian Faith, Andrew David King, and Stephanie Blalock



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54, Manchester Rd Bolton
Lancashire, England1
11. August 1891

My dearest Friend,

My birthday today. 38. A time rousing many memories, solemn thoughts, & forward reaching anticipations.

Most of all, thoughts of my dear mother—"buried & gone, yet buried not, gone not from me."2 How strongly I have felt that today! I feel somehow that there is indeed obscure & deep communion between us, not to be put in words, yet vital & real.

"Of all earth, life, love to me the best"—I pledge her dear memory—sacred & precious to me evermore—with you—the supreme lover, my dearest friend, exemplar, & benefactor—as with one who also loves his mother's memory above all else.

May God in due time reunite us there, in love deeper & more stainless than of old.

How life deepens with advancing years! Miraculous & wonderful beyond all speech, pierced through & through with shafts of light as from heaven itself—a deep & mystic love revealing & unfolding itself more & more.

"Praise the Lord for his goodness!"3—That old time ejaculation of psalmist David is true in every generation—& may be ours today in even greater measure.

Deep gratitude from my heart to you—dearest of all friends—for all the light & joy & blessing you have bestowed on me during the last twelve months. You little know all you have done for me! But you have my dearest love evermore.

Not only directly, but perhaps even more indirectly, you have deepened the channels of my life, & filled it with courage & joy. Old friendships you have deepened, & new & blessed ones have come to me through you.

I have had touching proofs of this today. From a full heart I pray God to bless my friends, & you their chief.

This morning I received a letter—short, sweet, & delicate, from our dear friend Johnston4 enclosing a bank note for £20 sent to me by "the College"5—to start me to you. (I cannot come yet, but they mean that I shall come when I can.)

Along with it a letter from Johnston in his own behalf warm & friendly, & an illustrated copy of his "Notes"6—similar to the one he sent to you.

Letters, too, from other friends—swelling my heart with emotions almost painful—my dear old friend Fred Wild7 for instance— & Wentworth Dixon8 & others. Greenhalgh9 sent me a book, too, with a note in which he says—"I am indebted to you for more than I can say. You have—unconsiously to yourself—answered questions of eternal importance to me."

Letters, too, from children—two very sweet & loving from Dixon's little girls.10

"I'm a proud man the day"—and I tell you about it, dear friend & master, because I owe so much of it to you. God bless you & reward you.

Some of the friends should have come to Anderton to tea with me—but business & other engagements intervened. Johnston however came, and as he had to return soon to his surgery, I came to Bolton again with him, & and write this while he is professionally engaged. Very soon I shall have to start off for the last train home.

We were very sorry to see in tonight's paper that you have had a spell of terrible heat in the States—96° at Philadelphia. We are very much concerned on your account. We shall await reports anxiously.

My life becomes more & more intertwined with yours. God grant that in the future it may grow worthier, & that I may be enabled to devote such energies & powers as are left me more & more to your cause.

I cannot write any more now.—But today— even more than usual—my heart goes out to you with love,& blessing & deepest gratitude & honour.

God bless you
J.W. Wallace


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. America. It is postmarked: BOLTON | [illegible] | A [illegible]12 | 91; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 19 | 4PM | REC'D; NEW YORK | [illegible]; PAID | C | ALL. Wallace has written his initials, "J.W.W," on the front of the envelope. [back]

2. Wallace is quoting here (and below) from Whitman's poem "As at Thy Portals Also Death." For more about the poem, see Susan Rieke, "As at Thy Portals Also Death," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Wallace is quoting from the Bible; see Psalm 107, Verse 31. [back]

4. 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]

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

6. Johnston published Notes of Visit to Walt Whitman, etc., in July, 1890. (Bolton: T. Brimelow & co., printers, &c.) in 1890. Johnston's notes about his visit to Whitman were later published with Wallace's own accounts of his Fall 1891 visits with Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke in Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

7. Fred Wild, a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers, and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. [back]

8. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

9. 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]

10. According to Edwin Haviland Miller, Wentworth Dixon's daughters were Mrs. H. M. Harrison and Helen Dixon. See (The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977], 5:205, note 19). [back]


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