Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 21 May 1888

Date: May 21, 1888

Whitman Archive ID: loc.07603

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, With Walt Whitman in Camden, ed. Horace Traubel (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906), 1:292–293. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, Stefan Schöberlein, and Stephanie Blalock

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The Union League Club
New York,
21st May, '88.

My dear Walt Whitman,

I have just been reading your lines in the "Herald"1 for this morning, which hold in them a message full of meaning for all of us who know you well. We think of your approaching birthday with sorrowful, & yet glad, remembrance of the years that you have lived so well.

My adventures since leaving you have not been very startling, but they have been full of everyday life and energy. Here in 5th Avenue, or more often in Broadway & the less-known haunts, I have been seeing all sorts of memorable things & men & women. Yesterday my good friend Cyrus Butler,2 a kind & wealthy old gentleman, took me quite a round of studios, &c. We began by breakfasting sumptuously here, (fried shad, omelettes, tomatoes, buckwheat cakes, strawberries, coffee, &c.) & then turned in to see Col. Bob Ingersoll,3 meeting there Lawrence Barrett4 the actor, & others. Then onto Beard's studios, &c. Over to Brooklyn to see a crazy rhymester,—winding up again by having supper near midnight.

To-day promises to be even more memorable, I expect to start up the Hudson River by the Mary Powell (fastest boat in the world, they say!) & then to catch a late train up at Newburgh on to Buffalo, &c. Thence to Dr. Bucke's5 place on Wednesday, where I will look to send you a further note on my doings.

I have good news of my brother at last, & so am free to sail for England in a fortnight.

With love,
Ernest Rhys.

Ernest Percival Rhys (1859–1946) was a British author and editor; he founded the Everyman's Library series of inexpensive reprintings of popular works. He included a volume of Whitman's poems in the Canterbury Poets series and two volumes of Whitman's prose in the Camelot series for Walter Scott publishers. For more information about Rhys, see Joel Myerson, "Rhys, Ernest Percival (1859–1946)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Rhys is referring to Whitman's poem "A Carol Closing Sixty-Nine," which was published in the New York Herald on May 21, 1888. [back]

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

3. Robert "Bob" Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) was a Civil War veteran and an orator of the post-Civil War era, known for his support of agnosticism. Ingersoll was a friend of Whitman, who considered Ingersoll the greatest orator of his time. Whitman said to Horace Traubel, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass. He lives, embodies, the individuality I preach. I see in Bob the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light" (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, March 25, 1891). The feeling was mutual. Upon Whitman's death in 1892, Ingersoll delivered the eulogy at the poet's funeral. The eulogy was published to great acclaim and is considered a classic panegyric (see Phyllis Theroux, The Book of Eulogies [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997], 30). [back]

4. Lawrence Barrett (1838–1891) was an American stage actor who acted in the repertory company of the Boston Museum and later on the London stage. He played numerous parts during his career, including taking on a number of Shakespearean roles, sometimes acting alongside the well-known stage actor Edwin Booth. [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]


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