Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 6 February 1891

Date: February 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04697

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, England1
6. February. 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

I was extremely pleased, last evening, to receive the copy of Ingersoll's2 lecture3 you were kind enough to send me, & I thank you for it with all my heart.

I have read it over tonight for the first time.—I was hardly prepossessed in its favour. I had previously known but little of Ingersoll. And I learned from Carlyle,4 long ago, to care little for platform "oratory" as such, & to consider the main question always (as you do) "What does it amount to?" And the newspaper reports (necessarily brief & imperfect) did not make it appear to amount to very much.

But the full report, as I read it, swept away all prepossession & criticism, & filled me with a great & dilating joy. It is a great & notable utterance—strong, manly brave & free—worthy of its subject, & worthy of a great American orator to an American audience.

I feel as though I should like to write to Ingersoll himself to thank him for it. And I rejoice, with all my heart, that at last you should have heard so strong a public declaration of the value of your work. Honour to Ingersoll for it! and gratitude & love to him from all your friends here.

———

But my rejoicing is greatly disturbed & overclouded by intelligence received at noon today of your relapse & ill health. Dr J.5 sent me a copy of a paragraph in yesterdays "Daily Graphic" as follows:—"A post card received from Walt Whitman says:—'Am having an extra bad spell these days. May blow over; may not.'"

No date is given so that I do not know when it was written. But we shall be very anxious indeed till we hear further. I will write to Traubel6 by this mail to ask him to send word at once.

Dearest & best of friends! Most honoured of benefactors! What can we say to you?—but that our warmest love & sympathy & our hearts' best wishes are with you always.—

With best love
Yours affectionately
J.W. Wallace


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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | 328 Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America. It is postmarked: Bolton | 58 | FE 7 | 91; PAID | B | ALL; New York | Feb | 15 | [illegible]; Camden, N.J. | Feb | 16 | 7AM | [1891?] | [illegible]. [back]

2. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

3. John H. Johnston (of New York) and Richard Maurice Bucke planned a lecture event in Whitman's honor, which took place October 21 at Philadelphia's Horticultural Hall. Robert Ingersoll delivered the lecture. See Ingersoll's October 12, 1890 and October 20, 1890, letters to Whitman. Planning for the event had been underway for about a month. In his letter to Whitman of September 17, 1890, Bucke quoted a letter from Johnston: "This morning an hour talk with Ingersoll and I got his promise and authority to proceed and get up a lecture entertainment by him for Walt's benefit—in Phila I guess—Shall I put you on committee?" [back]

4. 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]

5. 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]

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]


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