Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 27 February 1892

Date: February 27, 1892

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04839

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: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, nr Chorley Lancashire, England1
27 Feb 1892

Dear Walt

The American Mail has not come in yet—delayed probably by the gales we are having. We look forward anxiously to its arrival, hoping that it will bring tidings of continued improvement & increasing strength.2

The wind is blowing "great guns" as I write, yesterday & today having been very stormy, with showers of hail and rain.

Geo Humphreys3 came here on Saturday afternoon & spent the afternoon & evening with me. We spent most of the time reading & talking about you. I never had a more appreciative auditor. I read quite a lot aloud, including nearly all the Preface to the 1855 edition,4 & he seemed quite entranced, & thrilled as if he were receiving a succession of electric shocks.—I happened to have a reprint of the Preface (given me by Dr Bucke5) which I gave him.

I met a work mate of his the other week who told me what a powerful influence Humphreys has on his mates. "He has made new men of us" he said. He has gathered quite a large group round him—nicknamed "the School"—with whom he talks on social questions & incites to read—Carlyle6 for instance. He is the chief founder of what they call the ["]Co-operative Commonwealth" in Bolton—socialistic in theory & aims—which began a few years ago with a capital of 10s/- & & is now prospering wonderfully. Fifteen persons are regularly employed—weaving &c—including a few women—& they are just purchasing new premises for which they are paying £1900!

Humphreys is a very likeable fellow indeed—earnest & active with a winning sympathy & kindliness of manner very attractive to me. He is well read & thoughtful & is a man I am heartily glad to be friends with. I am sure that he will prove to be (as he has been in the past) a centre of beneficial influence to many others. And he is wonderfully advanced in his appreciation of L of G & his love for their author. And he is "as proud as a dog with two tails" of the copy you sent him.7

I had a brief letter from Carpenter8 yesterday. He is at York just now & very busy. He talks of coming here some time before long.

I was at Johnston's9 last night for a short time. He was quite well after a busy day. The rest of the friends10 are all well & moving along as usual.

It is a great joy to me to write to you again with a reasonable hope of your being able to read it. Even if you do not read it it will serve as a token of love & best wishes which are the same always & come from my deepest heart.

Yours affectionately
J. W. Wallace


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 Street | Camden | New Jersey | U. S. A. It is postmarked: (?) | Fe27 | 92. [back]

2. On December 17, 1891, Whitman had come down with a chill and was suffering from congestion in his right lung. Although the poet's condition did improve in January 1892, he would never recover. He was confined to his bed, and his physicians, Dr. Daniel Longaker of Philadelphia and Dr. Alexander McAlister of Camden, provided care during his final illness. Whitman died on March 26, 1892. [back]

3. Little is known about the millwright and machine-fitter George Humphreys beyond the details provided by Wallace in this letter. [back]

4. Wallace is referring to Whitman's preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855). [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. Whitman offers to send Humphries a copy of Leaves of Grass in a July 31, 1891, postal card to Johnston. [back]

8. Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) was an English writer and Whitman disciple. Like many other young disillusioned Englishmen, he deemed Whitman a prophetic spokesman of an ideal state cemented in the bonds of brotherhood. Carpenter—a socialist philosopher who in his book Civilisation, Its Cause and Cure posited civilization as a "disease" with a lifespan of approximately one thousand years before human society cured itself—became an advocate for same-sex love and a contributing early founder of Britain's Labour Party. On July 12, 1874, he wrote for the first time to Whitman: "Because you have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. . . . For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature." For further discussion of Carpenter, see Arnie Kantrowitz, "Carpenter, Edward [1844–1929]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

9. 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]

10. Wallace is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman, that he and the English physician Dr. John Johnston co-founded. [back]


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