Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 10 July 1891

Date: July 10, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04725

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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes July 31 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Ian Faith, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, near Chorley
Lancashire, England1
10 July 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

Two memorable & happy days—yesterday & today. Your p.c. of June 30th came to hand yesterday morning.2 During the morning Johnston3 called on me & gave me a copy of a letter he had just received from you, dated June 27th.4 & told me he had received the pictures referred to.5 So I called on him in the evening after leaving business to see them. I was delighted to see them & consider them of immense interest & value. Of course he gave me the duplicated copies, & I hope to arrange for photographic copies of two or three others that I have not got. (Mrs Gilchrist's6 favourite—another with the hat on7—& the one engraved8 in the pocket book edn of L of G9)

Thank you heartily for your generous loving–kindness in sending them.

This morning Dr J. left me the proof slips just received of the Lippincott10 article.11

I read it at the first opportunity—after dinner & somewhat hastily—to return it later.—I have been looking forward eagerly to reading it, but it surpasses my best anticipations. So complete & full—above all so lifelike, unconventional, easy, flowing, spontaneous, full of abandon, good cheer, & affectionate camaraderie—speeches brief & pithy, but full of gems—the whole to be measured & read again & again—destined to last for generations. I have read nothing for a long time that has interested me so much.

I agree with you that "the best bits are S's,12 Conways,13 & Dr B's"14—I consider Dr B's especially valuable—in conjunction with all the rest.—It seems strange that he should have taken the part of "devil's advocate," & he will perhaps smile when he thinks of it. But his impromptu speech—like passages of similar import in your own poems—add enormously to the power & value of the rest.—not a far away & emasculated saint you, but a man like the rest of us! And we poor devils can claim Kindred with you, & draw hopeful courage & inspiration from your splendid example—"the highest yet most human too."15

In a few days we shall see Dr Bucke himself.16 He will find us commonplace fellows enough, not literary or clever or well informed, but affectionate friends all the same. Two or three, indeed, I cannot think of without swelling pride & joy in having such noble manly fellows for my friends. And we love you, (though some of us don't understand half your books) And it will be a lifelong pleasure to us to meet your friend & our friend & to talk about you. To some of us, I trust, it will be something deeper & better still,—a consecration to the life you have lived—an apostolic visit to the small church planted here. May God's blessing rest upon his visit, & his Spirit be poured out upon us.

I want to write a few lines to Traubel17 tonight, so must now close.

Love to you always, dearest of friends, & a goodnight kiss!
J.W. Wallace

P.S.

I expect Dr Johnston here tomorrow

P.P.S. Saturday aftn.

Telegram from Johnston saying he can't come. Will post this from here.


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: ADL [illegible]GTON | JY 11 | 91 [back]

2. See Whitman's postal card to Wallace of June 30, 1891[back]

3. 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 the architect 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]

4. See Whitman's letter to Johnston of June 27, 1891[back]

5. 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. Both Johnston and Wallace had ordered copies of these portraits from Whitman. See Johnston's letter to Whitman of June 10, 1891. Whitman apparently sent instead some of the photos he had been thinking about using in the never-realized "Portraits from Life." [back]

6. Anne Burrows Gilchrist (1828–1885) was the author of one of the first significant pieces of criticism on Leaves of Grass, titled "A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman (From Late Letters by an English Lady to W. M. Rossetti)," Radical 7 (May 1870), 345–59. Gilchrist's long correspondence with Whitman indicates that she had fallen in love with the poet after reading his work; when the pair met in 1876 when she moved to Philadelphia, Whitman never fully returned her affection, although their friendship deepened after that meeting. For more information on their relationship, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Anne Burrows (1828–1885)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. The photos referred to are this 1863 (not 1864) picture and this photo, also taken in 1863, and sent to the author Anne Gilchrist through the English editor William M. Rossetti. See Whitman's letter to Rossetti of December 9, 1869[back]

8. Wallace is referring to an engraving of a portrait of Whitman by William James Linton (1812–1897). The engraving is based on an early 1870s photograph by George C. Potter. Linton's engraving of Walt Whitman appeared in the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass, in Complete Poems & Prose (1888–1889), and in The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (1902), 10 vols., II, 156. It inspired Whitman's poem "Out from Behind This Mask." See Harold Blodgett, "Whitman and the Linton Portrait," Walt Whitman Newsletter, 4 (1958), 90–92. [back]

9. Whitman had a limited pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass printed in honor of his 70th birthday, on May 31, 1889, through special arrangement with Frederick Oldach. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. The volume also included the annex Sands at Seventy and his essay A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads. See Whitman's May 16, 1889, letter to Oldach. For more information on the book see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

10. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915. Joseph Marshall Stoddart was the editor of the magazine from 1886 to 1894, and he frequently published material by and about Whitman. For more information on Whitman's numerous publications here, see Susan Belasco, "Lippincott's Magazine." [back]

11. Wallace is referring to a proof of Horace Traubel's "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," an article that was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. [back]

12. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

13. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907) was an American abolitionist, minister, and frequent correspondent with Walt Whitman. Conway often acted as Whitman's agent and occasional public relations man in England. For more on Conway, see Philip W. Leon, "Conway, Moncure Daniel (1832–1907)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

14. 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]

15. Wallace is quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson here. [back]

16. At this time, Bucke was traveling to England, where he planned to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was building with his brother-in-law William Gurd. [back]

17. 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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