Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to James W. Wallace, 23 May 1891

Date: May 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08051

Source: Henry S. Saunders collection of Walt Whitman papers, 1887–1923, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:203. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Ryan Furlong, Cristin Noonan, Breanna Himschoot, and Stephanie Blalock




Evn'g May 23 '91
Camden N J—U S America1

Nothing pronounced to write—y'r kind letters2 promptly rec'd, thanks—the Contemporary Mag:3 & Manchester Guardian4 13th rec'd: & others—is now well on to sunset—have had my supper, mainly a dish of strawberries, (good & plenty & cheap now here)—my condition the same continued, bad bad enough—(if my birth-day5 reveller friends don't look out they will run on as bad a snag as the good friends who went with loving gifts & words to congratulate the old musician & found he was just dead & cold up in the garret)—Suppose you have had the stitched "Good-Bye"6 I sent Dr [Johnston]7—sh'l soon send you & Dr a portrait or mask of self photo just taken, the most audacious thing in its line ever taken8—Dr Bucke9 is still lamed badly—


W W


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: J W Wallace | Anderton near Chorley | Lancashire | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 23 | 8 PM | 91. [back]

2. It is uncertain which letter is being referred to here. [back]

3. As yet we have no information about this publication. [back]

4. In 1821, John Edward Taylor (1791–1844), a cotton merchant, founded The Manchester Guardian. It began as a weekly, but later became a daily newspaper. The paper attained international fame under the editorship of Charles Prestwich ("C. P.") Scott (1846–1932), who served as editor for fifty-seven years, beginning in 1872, and was the paper's owner from 1907 until his death. In 1959, the paper's name was changed to simply The Guardian, and publication continues under that name. [back]

5. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday, May 31, 1891, was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g—ab't 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]

6. Whitman's book Good-Bye My Fancy (1891) was his last miscellany, and it included both poetry and short prose works commenting on poetry, aging, and death, among other topics. Thirty-one poems from the book were later printed as "Good-Bye my Fancy 2d Annex" to Leaves of Grass (1891–1892), the last edition of Leaves of Grass published before Whitman's death in March 1892. For more information see, Donald Barlow Stauffer, "'Good-Bye my Fancy' (Second Annex) (1891)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. In May 1891, the sculptor and educator Samuel Murray (1869–1941) accompanied another sculptor, William O'Donovan (1844–1920) of New York, to Whitman's home in Camden, New Jersey. Murray photographed Whitman in a profile portrait, which Whitman referred to in this letter as "the most audacious thing in its line ever taken." He again commented on the portrait's "audacity" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, May 19, 1891) and proudly described it as "an artist's picture in the best sense" (With Walt Whitman in Camden, Saturday, May 23, 1891). [back]

9. 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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