Life & Letters


About this Item

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

Date: September 11, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04664

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, Andrew David King, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock

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11. Septbr 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

How I wish that you were here just now!—The day perfect,—clear air, warm sunshine, with just felt breezes—the beautiful, park-like grounds—& the homely hospitality of your old friend,1 & of his wife and family.—If only we had a fortunatus-hat2 or wishing cloak to put at your disposal, we would instantly waft you here.

I enjoyed the journey here immensely. The novelty of the luxurious Sleeping Car interested me to begin with, and everything was new & interesting. We turned in about 10 oclock, & both enjoyed a refreshing night's sleep. Morning clear & fresh & beautiful—the landscape & farmsteads American!—Stopped for an hour & a quarter at Buffalo, where we had breakfast. Arrived at Niagara Falls (Canadian side) about 11.15 & had to wait for a train @ 3.—So, after the Custom House officers had examined our Baggage we took a conveyance to the Falls. Took long looks at them from several points of view, silently absorbing. Sun shining gloriously, blue sky with light clouds here & there. I won't attempt to convey my impressions of the Falls. Only that I was quite unprepared for their delicate & exquisite beauty. The effects of the wreathing spray were beyond description & unique. In coming to America I was indifferent whether I saw Niagara or not. Now I am very thankful that I have seen it. But I did not care to stop too long, as "I only hold a pint," & we came away while the impression was still fresh. We had a good dinner at the Depot, & then put in the time till train came in—Dr.3 reading, I scribbling. Then a 4 hours run to London—country beautiful all the time—"Blue Ontario"4 like a sapphire on our right for a time—snake fences, stumps of trees, homesteads, character of scenery, perfect loveliness of day—all of constant interest to me. Dr. visibly impatient to get home, his heart going out to his wife5 & family, & friends after his trip—silent & absorbed.

At last—½ an hour late—7.30 we arrived at London, & stepped out on platform—Drs son came up, followed by two of the Drs here. Conveyance in readiness & at 8 oclock we arrived here. As we approached along the avenue a band struck up, playing by lamplight, the new moon shining over head. Mrs Bucke & family all waiting in the verandah. I never saw such a homecoming & shall never forget it. Dr. moving about, shaking hands here, now there, & exchanging greetings. Everyone manifestly glad to see him back—talk & laughter, band playing all the time—now "Home, Sweet Home," now "Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot," &c &c.—This quite a long time—half an hour at least. Then the band stopped (half of them patients) chorus of frogs still sounding, a few words of thanks from Dr.—dispersal—& then into the house. Tea or supper, a little talk & bed I noticed that early enquiries were made about you, & about Traubel6 & his wife.7

Immediately after breakfast this morning we had a drive down to town, getting back about 11. Since then I have loafed, written letters &c.

Mrs Bucke notices a perceptible improvement in Drs appearance, & he seems to be unmistakeably better for his trip—How I wish you could have one too.

I wished it all the time we were out in Fairmount Park & Germantown. It was so beautifully fine.

My dear old friend! My heart goes out to you more than ever now that I have seen you. For one thing, you remind me so much of my dear mother. And in so far as I still felt a distance between us you have "disillusioned" me indeed, for you seem to me now as near & intimate as well as dear as my own Kith & Kin—Nay, dearer.

If I were not so helpless & stupid! I would gladly do something to please you, while I am over if I only knew what.

I am glad to have seen Mrs Davis8 & Warry,9 & feel that they are more my friends than ever. And I am very happy to know Traubel & his winsome wife. God bless them both.

Well, I think I will stop now. I feel sleepy & write stupidly, & will rest a little—It is now 4 o'clock, & at ½ past Dr. B will come here & drive me round the grounds.

Love to you, renewed and deepened, & my best prayers & wishes. And love to all.

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 both Whitman and the Canadian physician Richard Maurice Bucke at his home in London, Ontario, Canada, in the fall of 1891. Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, had visited Whitman in the summer of 1890. Accounts of these visits can be found in Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917). [back]

2. Wallace is referring to the plot of "Fortunatus," a German tale about a hero of the same name that was popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th Centuries. In the tale, Fortunatas journeys toward fortune and fame, encountering a Goddess of Fortune who gives him a purse that was continually replenished and a sultan at Cairo who gives him a hat that could transport the wearer to any destination. [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. Wallace is referring to Whitman's poem, "By Blue Ontario's Shore." For more about the poem, see Kirsten Gruesz Silva, "By Blue Ontario's Shore (1856)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

6. 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]

7. Horace Traubel was married to Anne Montgomerie Traubel (b. 1864–1954). [back]

8. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. A picture of Warry is displayed in the May 1891 New England Magazine (278). See Joann P. Krieg, "Fritzinger, Frederick Warren (1866–1899)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 240. [back]


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