Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 5 June 1891

Date: June 5, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04716

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, Ryan Furlong, Alex Ashland, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, near Chorley
Lancashire, England
5 June 1891

My dear Friend,

Your most kind letter of May 23rd1 duly received & welcomed. Thank you from my heart.

It grieves me very much to note that at the time of writing there was no improvement in your condition—"the same continued." It is at once affecting & inspiring that you should have written at all under such circumstances, & that your letter should breathe such unbroken cheer & playful humour—as of robust & undisturbed health—the "little spark of soul"2 shining serene & unobscured in unwavering good cheer & love—"master of all terror & all pain"3

I at once made a careful facsimile copy & sent it to Johnston.4

I need not say that we shall be delighted to receive the "audacious" photo.5 you promise us—which will have the additional interest of being the most recent portrait of you. I quite long to see it.

It reminds me of an old intention of mine. I have several times wondered if the "Portraits from Life"6 advertised @ $3 include portraits which I have not seen. And now I will enclose money order for 13s/- & ask you to send me a set.—Provided, that is, that you are well enough & that it will not trouble you too much.

The weather here is dull & showery—with cool east winds. But we have just had a gorgeous sunset—rich & warm. I hope that the weather is better with you & more favourable to you—Here, there is quite an excessive amount of sickness—influenza mainly—& the Drs (our friend Johnston amongst them) are very heavily worked.

I am very impatient of these slow mails. I long to know how you are now, & I am anxiously waiting for better news.—I cannot emulate your serene acceptance of whatever comes. Too much of warm personal love is wrapped up in you for that. And yet, my loved friend & master, I know in my heart of hearts that all is well, that "Love like the light silently wraps us all,"7 & that death itself cannot sever the love between us.

God's blessing upon you, & my tenderest love—
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. See Whitman's letter to Wallace of May 23, 1891[back]

2. At this time, Whitman often wrote letters on stationery printed with the following notice from the Boston Evening Transcript: "From the Boston Eve'g Transcript, May 7, '91.—The Epictetus saying, as given by Walt Whitman in his own quite utterly dilapidated physical case is, a 'little spark of soul dragging a great lumux of corpse-body clumsily to and fro around.'" Wallace is likely referring to this saying. [back]

3. Wallace is referring to Whitman's preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855). [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. In May 1891, the sculptor and educator Samuel Murray (1869–1941) accompanied another sculptor, William O'Donovan (1844–1920) of New York, to Whitman's home in Camden, New Jersey. Murray photographed Whitman in a profile portrait, which Whitman referred to as "the most audacious thing in its line ever taken" in his May 23, 1891, letter to James W. Wallace. He again commented on the portrait's "audacity" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 19, 1891) and proudly described it as "an artist's picture in the best sense" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891). [back]

6. Whitman had planned to publish a group of photographs of himself, but it was never issued. He often discussed the project, which he considered calling "Portraits from life of Walt Whitman," with Horace Traubel; see, for example. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 4, 1889[back]

7. Wallace is referring to a line from Whitman's poem, "Song of the Universal," which reads: "Love like the light silently wrapping all." [back]


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