Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 31 July–1 August 1891

Date: July 31–August 1, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04820

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 August 10 1891," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Andrew David King, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, near Chorley.
Lancashire, England.1
31 July 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

I hope that this will find you in better health than when you wrote last.2—If the cool weather here is anything to go by you will at last have had a diminution of the oppressive heat.

Cool, showery weather here, with one or two days this week of strong winds & positively cold for the time of year.

Clear, cool evening tonight. Last night specially fine, with glorious sunset.

Dr. Johnston3 & his brother4 (from Scotland) Mrs Johnston5 & a lady friend of hers,6 went off at noon to the Isle of Man. They are staying at a house Johnston & I have stayed at before—a house at once boarding-house & farm. It is situated on the west coast, 5 miles from the little town of Peel. It is away from the tourist haunts, in the most beautiful region of the Island. The farm slopes up from the sea (the house 2 fields away) with rugged hills behind, with wooded glens &c. The coast—curving outwards like a wide shallow bay—is very rocky & precipitous, with steep hills, & narrow winding bays or creeks. Ireland visible on clear days, or at sundown—the lighthouse at Point of Ayr, Scotland, visible at night. Scanty population of farmers & fishermen, simple unsophisticated & hospitable. (Have several friends amongst them.) Boating, fishing & one or two good places for bathing (au naturel). Rocks on shore, with innumerable pools, a paradise at ebb tide for a naturalist. Purest & sweetest air—an almost ideal place for bodily & mental rest & recuperation, alone (or nearly so) with mountain & sea, & the innocent farm pursuits.

Doubtless Johnston will write you at length about it all & send you photographs of the place & people.

I imagine him at this moment, newly arrived, & good old motherly Mrs Teare7 ministering to him & the rest. (First visit of Mrs Johnston and the rest).

We were there 4 years ago, & a rare good time we had! We were there at the end of harvest & came in for the Manx "mēlya"8—all the farm servants, & neighbors coming into supper, & then adjourning to the barn, where to the light of 2 or 3 candles Johnston played a fiddle & the rest of us danced & romped about in hilarious games.

What good times J. & I had alone, too, down at the foot of the cliffs, amongst the rocks, & elsewhere, reading L. of G. "Sea Drift"9 &c.—not to be forgotten.

And the talks with fishermen—old John Gow,10 for instance, with his rheumatism, & his reminiscences of wrecks on that coast. And down at old Ann Watterson's11 little cabin nestled in among the rocks right on the shore, fullfronting the bay,—with Bradda Head, Cronk-ny-ira-la, the Calf of Man, Fleshwick Bay &c in grand panorama, & the everpresent sound of the sea.

The harvesting, boating &c. and one visit to the quaint little church (about as big as your room) the parson12 ringing the bell to summon his people, the quaint congregation, with their simple unconventional ways &c.

I was there again the following spring for 4 days, and two years ago I spent 3 weeks there.—Johnston with me the first time, & visiting me the second time.

Blessings on them all! And may Johnston & his party enjoy their holiday.

I got Lippincott13 for August today, & have since read the report of your birthday spree again.14 I like it better than ever, & am delighted to have it.

Have not heard from Dr Bucke15 this week.

I write this hastily & must now close.

Love to Traubel16 & his wife,17 to Mrs Davis18 & Warry.19

And my supreme love & best wishes to you always.
J. W. Wallace

Mg. 1. August Letter from Dr Bucke this morning, enclosing a long letter he had recd from Traubel.—What a live fellow T. is! busy, ardent, aspiring, loyal, loving. God speed him!

Am looking forward to the publication of O'Connor's20 stories.21

Love to you.


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. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | 328, Mickle St | Camden | New Jersey. | U.S. America. It is postmarked: BOLTON | 34 | AU 1 | 91; [illegible]; PAID | [illegible] | ALL; CAMDEN, N.J. | AUG | 10 | 9AM | 1891 | REC'D. [back]

2. In his letter to Wallace of July 14, 1891, Whitman noted that he felt "badly depress'd" that day. [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 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. William Joseph Johnston (1863–1935), the younger brother of Dr. John Johnston, was a solicitor in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. [back]

5. Margaret Beddows Johnston (ca. 1854–1932?) of Bolton, England, was the daughter of Thomas Beddows—a wheelwright—and his wife Mary. Margaret was a millinery worker and a dressmaker; she married Dr. John Johnston in Bolton in 1878. The couple did not have any children. [back]

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

7. Little is known about Mrs. Teare, who seems to have been the prorpietor of a boarding house and farm near the town of Peel on the Isle of Man. [back]

8. Mheillea is the ancient Manx fall harvest celebration on the Isle of Man, involving a supper given by a farmer to his workers and neighbors who have helped bring in the harvest and a social gathering to thank the pagan gods for a bountiful year. [back]

9. Wallace is referring to the "Sea-Drift" cluster, which consists of eleven poems including "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life." The cluster was first incorporated into Leaves of Grass in 1881. [back]

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

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

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

13. 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]

14. Horace Traubel's article "Walt Whitman's Birthday, May 31, 1891," was published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in August 1891. It offered a detailed account of Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, which was celebrated with friends at the poet's home on Mickle Street. [back]

15. 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]

16. 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]

17. Anne Montgomerie (1864–1954) married Horace Traubel in Whitman's Mickle Street house in Camden, New Jersey, in 1891. They had one daughter, Gertrude (1892–1983), and one son, Wallace (1893–1898). Anne was unimpressed with Whitman's work when she first read it, but later became enraptured by what she called its "pulsating, illumined life," and she joined Horace as associate editor of his Whitman-inspired periodical The Conservator. Anne edited a small collection of Whitman's writings, A Little Book of Nature Thoughts (Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1896). After Horace's death, both Anne and Gertrude edited his manuscripts of his conversations with Whitman during the final four years of the poet's life, which eventually became the nine-volume With Walt Whitman in Camden[back]

18. 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]

19. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

20. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the grand and grandiloquent Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet," published in 1866 (a digital version of the pamphlet is available at "The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication"). For more on Whitman's relationship with O'Connor, see Deshae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

21. At the behest of Ellen O'Connor, Houghton, Mifflin & Company published her late husband William D. O'Connor's story "The Brazen Android" (which Whitman misremembers here as "The Bronzoid Android") in The Atlantic Monthly in April and May of 1891. They also planned to publish a collection that included three of O'Connor's stories and a preface by Whitman. Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter was published the following year, in 1892. [back]


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