Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 9 June 1891

Date: June 9, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04717

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, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6
page image
image 7
page image
image 8


Anderton, near Chorley
Lancashire, England1
9. June 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

Your letter of May 28th received yesterday morning.2 Deep responding gratitude & love to you for writing at all under such sad conditions—"still badly prostrated—horrible torpidity." And cordial thanks to you not only for the letter, which I deeply prize, but for its address to my old & dear friend Wentworth Dixon.3

I took the earliest opportunity of calling on him with it at his office & giving it to him. I read it to him first—in a sort of casual way—& when I came to the words "Give this scrawl to Wentworth Dixon to keep if he cares for it" it was notable how his face & neck flushed deep red with pleasure. It was a rare joy to me as well as to him.

No gift could possibly have been better, & I know well he will treasure it as long as he lives.

Quiet, cool & undemonstrative—no man in Bolton is more true & genuine. A model husband & father, he is also a friend after Horatio's4 pattern—to be worn in one's heart of hearts. Uncompromising in his reverence for truth alone, he quietly puts aside all that is doubtful or undemonstrable, & takes his stand on what is verifiable only.

Leaving the orthodoxy in which he was brought up, he became an agnostic. Then, to his deep delight, he found in the writings of Epictetus5 & Marcus Aurelius6 portraitures of noble souls, strong brave, & sincere, whom he could with a whole heart reverence & love. He studied their books closely and with genuine enthusiasm. I have heard nothing better than two papers on Epictetus he once read to our little "College"7—himself a worthy representative of the noble old Roman.— And now he is coming more & more under your influence. He has long since learned to love & honour you as a man. I can see that he does this increasingly, with keener desire to understand your words, & a nearer approach to sympathy & receptiveness. And I expect that "they will itch at his ears"8 evermore, & that the unfolding spirit of life within him will drive him more & more into fuller sympathy with a faith & hopes that will enrich & irradiate his life.

To that divine spirit I leave him with hope & trust. Often in talking with him I have realized the force of your words that "logic & sermons never convince"9 & that the man's own evolution can alone supply what is lacking. And a man so quietly faithful & true, so resolutely good, loyal, candid & helpful as he cannot long fail of the best.

I think you will see now why I rejoice so much that you should have addressed your letter, with its brief comments on Stoicism,10 to him. I thank you, & I thank God, with a full heart.

He sent me a facsimile tracing of it, which I have carefully read again & again, & pondered over— Some day I hope to make it the text of a talk to the friends.

I do wish that you were better, & I think of you continually with loving sympathy.

The weather here has been beautiful these last 2 days though with rather cool N.E. winds. A more beautiful morning than the one today never dawned out of the deep.—

Thanks & love & best wishes to you always.
J. W. Wallace

P.S. Love to Warry, Mrs Davis11 & Traubel12

Johnston was unwell last week, but is better again. Is still very busy. W.D. will write himself to thank you13


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | 328, Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey | U.S. America. It is postmarked: BOLTON | 42 | JU 10 | 91; PAID | F | All; 91; NEW YORK | JUN 19; CAMDEN, [N.J.] | JUN | 20 | [6P M] | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter to Wallace of May 28, 1891[back]

3. 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 14.2 (1996), 57–84. [back]

4. Wallace is referring to Horatio, a character in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. Horatio remains at court without an offical appointment and serves as a loyal friend to Hamlet. Horatio is the only main character that survives, and he is entrusted to tell Hamlet's story. [back]

5. Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) was a Greek stoic philosopher and former slave, whose works had a lasting impact on the politics of Marcus Antoninus (121-180 AD), the Roman Emperor. [back]

6. Known as the last of the "Five Good Emperors," Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was the Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 CE. He was a stoic philosopher and wrote twelve books of Meditations for his own self-improvement. [back]

7. The "Bolton College" was a group of Whitman admirers located in Bolton, England. Founded by Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927) and James William Wallace (1853–1926), the group corresponded with Whitman and Horace Traubel throughout the final years of the poet's life. 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). 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). [back]

8. Wallace is quoting from Section 47 of Whitman's "Song of Myself," in which the poet writes, "My words itch at your ears till you understand them." [back]

9. Wallace is quoting from Section 30 of Whitman's "Song of Myself," which includes the line "Logic and sermons never convince." [back]

10. Founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the third century BC, Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that emphasized ethics as the central focus of human knowledge. Among the teachings of Stoicism is the concept that one must overcome destructive emotions through self-control. Prominent Stoics included Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. [back]

11. 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]

12. 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]

13. See Dixon's letter to Whitman of June 13, 1891[back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.