Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 6 January 1891

Date: January 6, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.04966

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 notes: The annotations, "see notes Mar. 7, 1891," and " March 7th '91 note," are in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Ethan Heusser, Cristin Noonan, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock



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Anderton, near Chorley.
Lancashire, England
6. Jany. 1891.

Dear Walt Whitman,

I was delighted yesterday morning to receive your kind post card of Decbr: 23rd,1 & I thank you for it with all my heart.

I was very much pleased to note the rather better report of your health at the time of writing:—("pretty fair—considering")— & of your having been out the previous day.

This morning, I had the further pleasure of receiving a letter from Dr Johnston,2 enclosing copies of your P.C. to him & of a letter from Horace L. Traubel3 dated Decbr: 25th, which confirmed the glad news of your improved condition.

I was also very much pleased to receive a copy of "The New Ideal"4 for Decbr, and one of "Unity"5 for August 28th;—both very kindly sent by Traubel at your suggestion. I will write to him tonight (though briefly) to thank him.

I note your description of your solitude &c, relieved "once in a while" by "something or somebody that cheers you," & I wish that I could do something better to cheer you than writing stupid letters. But I can only do "as they" are said to "do in Chowbent" (a village near Bolton)—viz:—the best they can!

Indeed, I am doing very little in any way at present. I am still suffering from exhaustion of brain & nerves, which is very slow to quit, & which, while it lasts, prevents me from doing any thing beyond my necessary work.

Even the society of friends ("the College"6) of which I was the founder & leader, & which met at our house while we lived in Bolton, has seen very little of me this winter

Both in it, & in literary work besides, I have been anxious to extend your influence & to help on your work. And I trust that in good time, & by God's help, I shall be able to do so—perhaps all the better for my present inactivity.

Meanwhile, it is my proudest & dearest privilege to write to you, & to shew you something—(if nothing better) of a love which is as that of a son, & of the gratitude & homage due to my greatest benefactor & exemplar.

As I read your postcard, & thought of you sitting alone in your room, (in your big chair—with wolfskin,) writing & reading—"or rather going through the motions"—I wished that I could sit with you, & read aloud for you what you wished, & write as you dictated. How gladly would I do so if I only could!

But I have to content myself with looking up at your portrait which looks down upon me from the mantelpiece & writing as I can.

I am most heartily glad that you begin the New Year under improved conditions of health—(or seemed likely to do so at Christmas.) I devoutly hope that as the year goes on it may bring you increasing strength & immunity from pain, inspirations of nobler cheer & trust & love, with wider & deeper returns of the love you have poured forth in such a measureless & lifelong flood—& that your eyes may be gladdened with visible beginnings of the noble harvest yet to come to the burning seeds of faith & joy & love you have so diligently planted.

With heartfelt, deepest thanks for all your benefits—& for all your personal loving-kindness—to me, & with responding love, gratitude & reverence always.

I remain
Yours affectionately
J.W. 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 of December 23, 1890[back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Traubel sent Wallace a copy of the December issue of the New Ideal in which a "'Walt Whitman/Robert Ingersoll' page" by Traubel had been published. See Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, November 21, 1890[back]

5. Wallace is likely referring to the following article: Horace Traubel, "Walt Whitman's Birthday," Unity (August 28, 1890), 215. Traubel has apparently sent Wallace a copy of the magazine in which his article on Whitman's seventy-first birthday appeared. [back]

6. 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]


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