Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 23 January 1891

Date: January 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04696

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: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, nr Chorley.
Lancashire, England
23. January 1891.

My dear Walt Whitman,

Thank you for the copy of "Once a Week"1 you sent me & which I received on the 17th ult.—I noted especially the account of The O'Gorman Mahon,2 & the pictures & leader relating to the Indians. It reminded me of your "Indian Bureau Reminiscences,"3 which I re-read I hope that your artist friend "B.H."4 "regained his health" & has been successful in his studies & work.

I send you herewith a copy of "The Magazine of Art"5 for January,—containing a photogravure & engravings of earlier portraits of Ruskin,6 which I think will interest you.

I have long been deeply interested in his books, & it used to be one of my main desires to give them complete & exhaustive study that I, too, might contribute a little to their exposition & support.

And I still think that no English author—since his master Carlyle7—so emphatically deserves it, & deserves the sympathetic & careful study of his race. And at no period, probably, has a braver, purer spirit ever spent his passionate force in literature for the sacred cause of human well-being. His message (with whatever limitations,—& they are great) is one of deep importance to his generation, & should be laid well to heart. But it still needs to be set in its due relationship & needs (it seems to me) to be corrected & offset by the larger & complementary (or rather over-arching) teaching which you have given us. I have long desired to attempt to do this. And, with better health & strength,8 & under more favourable conditions, I yet hope to do something towards it.

I often wonder to what extent you are acquainted with his books. No doubt you know some of them well. They are antagonistic, of course, in several essential respects, to your own. But I am often struck, in minor points, with the degree in which they are not only in unison with yours, but in which they support & illustrate them. "Wisdom is justified of all her children,"9 and the truth of every man's work or thought is eliminated, in course of time, to the last fraction, from the false, & helps onward the march of human progress.—If Ruskin is narrow & wilful—if he "prescribes specifics for indispensible evils," or if,—Quixote-like,—he tilts at times against imaginary foes, let us, not any the less, revere the [nobleness?] of his aims, & & honour, with swelling love & gratitude, the fiery war against the evils of his time, in which he has spent his energies & wasted his heart.

One wishes, at times, that he had known you personally long ago, & could have had familiar talk with you, face to face, as he had with Carlyle.10

And I have often been disposed to wish that Carlyle could have done so too. Your great love for him is very manifest. [And?] he, [above?] all others, loved a man & knew one when he saw one.

—How sad & strange, it seems at times, that he should have never really known you at all! But the Divine Providence is wise. It was Carlyle's lot to do a great & needed service, which, under other conditions, would perhaps have never been done. And though one wishes for his sake that he could have learned of you, & though it might have saved him desolating pain & loneliness of heart, yet, who shall say that his great soul was not better for the terrible toils & grim purgatorial fires through which he passed, & for the agonizings & fierce travail throes of his prophetic (however partial) message?

And it has seemed clear to me, in reading Ruskin's latest books, (the later vols. of "Fors Clavigera"11 especially) that in his passionate crusade against the evils of our modern life—notwithstanding its bruises to his delicate, susceptible spirit, & the yet more bitter separation of life & isolation of soul in which it has placed him.—(as of one "crying in the wilderness"12) he has, nevertheless, gained in spiritual depth & insight, & (I think) in a deeper trust in the ultimate good to follow the vast movements & (to him) apparent disintegration & retrogression of our time.

He does not love your Republic & its aims[.?] But no other living English author, I think[,?] has made [illegible] (with all deductions) so valuable a contribution to its sociology & evolution. (Though I recognize its limitations & drawbacks.—& see how much better is the ideal to which America is actually tending—independently of any authors).

Pardon my writing to you thus.—But it is partly because I have loved Carlyle & Ruskin from long years, & studied their books, that your teaching has been so precious to me.—

I hope that you are keeping better—The weather here is very variable—a day or two of thaw—or rain—followed by sharp frost & snow.

With love to you always
I remain
Yours affectionately
J.W. Wallace

P.S.

Since writing this I have just received from Dr. Johnston13 your post card of Jan: 9th14 & am glad to note that you were fairly well.


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. Once a Week was a British illustrated literary magazine published in London by Bradbury & Evans for more than twenty years, from 1859 to 1880. For more on Whitman's relation to the journal, see Susan Belasco, "Once a Week," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. James Patrick Mahon (1800–1891), also known as The O'Gorman Mahon, was an Irish journalist, barrister, parliamentarian, and mercenary. [back]

3. Whitman's "An Indian Bureau Reminiscence" originally appeared in November Boughs (1888). [back]

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

5. Published in both London and New York City by Cassells, Petter, Galphin & Co., The Magazine of Art was Brtiish illustrated monthly journal that was published for more than twenty-five years, from May 1878 to July 1904. The magazine focused on the visual arts and included articles about artists, reviews of exhibits, poetry, and numerous wood engravings by leading artists of the time. [back]

6. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]

7. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

8. In the fall of 1891, Wallace visited Whitman in Camden and the physician Richard Maurice Bucke at Bucke's home in London, Ontario, Canada. Wallace began feeling ill on his return journey to Bolton, England, and he describes lingering cold symptoms in his letter to Whitman of December 5, 1891[back]

9. Wallace is referencing the Bible. See Luke Chapter 7, Verse 35. [back]

10. Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a Scottish essayist, historian, lecturer, and philosopher. For more on Carlyle, see John D. Rosenberg, Carlyle and the Burden of History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985). [back]

11. Ruskin's Fors Clavigera (1871) was a series of letters to British workmen and laborers that were published in pamphlets. The title indicates the three powers of human destiny: Force, Fortitude, and Fortune. [back]

12. Wallace is referencing the Bible. See Isaiah Chapter 40, Verse 3 and John Chapter 1, Verse 23. [back]

13. 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]

14. See Whitman's January 9, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]


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