Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

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

Date: July 23, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.08340

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: Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, Marie Ernster, and Stephanie Blalock



page image
image 1
page image
image 2
page image
image 3
page image
image 4
page image
image 5
page image
image 6
page image
image 7
page image
image 8
page image
image 9
page image
image 10
page image
image 11
page image
image 12
page image
image 13
page image
image 14
page image
image 15
page image
image 16


Anderton, nr Chorley
Lancashire, England
23. July. 1891

My dear Walt Whitman,

I have to thank you for your kind postcard of July 14th received this mg.1 I note that you were "much the same considering, but badly depressed today." My heart goes out to you with yearning tenderness as I think of you sitting by the window, alone, weak & ill. May God strengthen & bless you & fill your heart with cheer & hope.

I do wish to hear of your being able to get out again into the fresh open air, the breezes & sunshine, & the currents of life. But I, too, "hope for better things bye & bye."

The same mail brought me two letters from Traubel2 & his wife,3 deeply touching in their wonderful kindness & cordiality. It stirs my heart to its depths to feel—as I have had reason to feel lately—how warm & vital is the comradeship of your friends & lovers, aroused & inspired by your example & words. Supreme & increasing love & honour to you always.

Dr Bucke4 has come & gone.5 Last Wednesday & Thursday. Johnston6 & I were "on pins" all the time, expecting a telegram from Queenstown. This, however, Dr B. had no opportunity of sending. On Friday mg. Johnston recd a telegram from him saying he had arrived in Liverpool (11.45 Thursday night) & would be in Bolton at 11 oclock on Friday mg. Johnston & I met him, recognising him immediately. We drove at once to Johnston's, discussing arrangements for the afternoon as we proceeded. It was settled that Dr. B. should drive with Johnston on one of his professional rounds, & meet me in town for dinner. In the meantime I was to arrange for a drive in the afternoon & beat up as many friends7 as I could to accompany us. Seven of us met in all—Fred Wild,8 Dixon,9 Shorrock,10 Hutton,11 Johnston, Dr. B & self. It was a glorious afternoon, bright, hot & slightly misty. We took what we consider the best & most interesting drive in the district—in the hilly moorland country north of the town, (all flat country south of Bolton) stopping eventually at the parsonage in Rivington, where Revd S. Thompson12 gave us our tea. Dr B had had no sleep during the two previous nights, & was almost overpowered by his want of sleep & by the heat. But he seemed to enjoy the drive. Thompson's quaint old fashioned garden interested him too, & his quiet, simple, genuine hospitality. (Grown up son & daughter at home, Mrs Thompson13 away on a visit). Johnston had [brought?] his camera, so took the opportunity, while we were in the garden to photograph the group, and Dr Bucke alone. Then the drive to Bolton, Thompson accompanying us. Some of the friends (engaged in business during the day) were awaiting us at Johnston's & we had a pretty full "College Meeting"— 3 being absent. We had no set programme, & didn't attempt any elaborate speechifying, but had an ordinary social evening—plus two songs for the occasion by Dixon & Johnston & short speeches by Dr Bucke, Hutton & self. Dr B., I believe, has given you an account of it all & sent you a copy of W.D.'s song.14

Law15 & I stayed all night at Johnston's—Law leaving early next morning for business. It was agreed to come out here in the afternoon. Unfortunately it proved to be the worst week end one could have chosen,—more than half the friends having engagements wh. could not be postpon'd. So there were only 5 of us in all. We went to the bank near Rivington Lake (where we had our talk May 31st,16 & of the view from which you have a picture) and there in the open air, Dr B (seated on a camp-stool, with his back against a low stone wall, the rest of us reclining on the grass round him) read us a paper on you wh. he intends to publish in a forthcoming book by himself & Traubel,17 & which he proposes to call "Physiological Guarantees." It was an admirable paper, & it was a great treat to us to hear it, though it contained little that was new. But it was a memorable & never-to-be-forgotten pleasure to hear Dr B, your accepted "explicator," & old personal friend give his matured conclusions about you &your work. A little stammering talk about it after, & then here to tea. Dr J. had to hurry off to catch the 6.23 train, the rest staying till 9.30. We spent the interval in this room talking mainly about you, Dr. B. reading passages from L. of G. & I reading the "Song of the Universal" & the "Prayer of Columbus."18

Sunday afternoon Dr. B. Johnston & Dixon came out here again, & we spent a quiet afternoon. We had a short walk in the immediate neighbourhood, my father accompanying us.19 Johnston & Dixon went on to Rivington for Thompson who came here for tea. We had a quiet chat about different things including Mark Twain's20 "Huckleberry Finn"— from which I read one or two of Dr B's favourite passages.

On Monday morning I called at Johnston's & drove with Dr. B & J. to the Town Hall, Market, Library, &c—& then to the Station, Dr B. going to London by the 11.21 train.

The foregoing is a mere skeleton record of our proceedings without flesh & blood, faint colors. But I write off hand & hastily.

No very special celebration, & nothing of much importance said or done. But a memorable & deeply significant time to us all.

It was a great thing to us to meet Dr. Bucke, face to face, to hear him talk & to observe his living presence & manner.

It was an especial treat to hear him talk of you, & to observe how naturally he regards you as his exemplar in all things.

He said a fine thing to me on Sunday—as we sat alone together in one of the country lanes here (waiting for Dr. J. & Dixon who had gone for Thom[pson]).

I don't remember his exact words, but they were something like these.

"I put my Whitman work before everything else,—before my wife21 & family even, & no one needs to wish a finer family than mine."

(I) "But, of course, the two interests can't come into collision, but rather support each other."

(Dr B) "Well, of course. But if they should clash, I should put Walt's interest before theirs, extravagant as it may seem to say so."

Said quietly, simply, & without special emphasis, & quite incidentally, as of an old & ever present principle of his life.

But far more significant & interesting than anything Dr B. said or did—specially—was the continual charm & influence of his manner—the living object lesson he afforded us of some of the results of your influence & teaching.

His manner of perfect & easy equality with each & all of us—no suspicion of superiority, or criticism, or ennui, but frank cheerful acceptance on equal terms of every one, of every thing said & of every incident, his hearty comradeship, his instant enjoyment, frank boyish laughter, & occasional glimpses of the depths of affection, loyalty, & reverence in him won all our he[arts]. Certainly I never met a man with whom I interchanged so soon & so fully & deeply. At our spree on Friday night I shook hands with him at the close of my little speech in token of his admission to our "College." I did it partly in jest, but it expressed a serious feeling (deepened since) that we regarded him as one of us, one, that is, of the circle of our dearest friends, a brother beloved.

When he comes to see us again, it will seem quite natural that he should do so, as natural & as welcome as sunshine & fresh air. Sitting in this house he seemed as fitly in his place as a near relative might have done—& as intimate & close to our hearts.

His very limitations (or what seem so) only endear him to us. For our own limitations are far greater—or narrower—& it is good to feel that we have so great a brother to encourage us on the upward road where you stand supreme.

But deeper than the pleasure, instruction, & stimulus of his immediate presence, are the hopes & aims his visit suggests for the future. It seems to me to admit us into the wide expanding brotherhood, whose glory & privilege it will be, in different spheres & in varying degrees, to carry on your work. May God help us to indeed consecrate ourselves to the work.

Dr. B. said on Friday night that he "only wished the old man were here." But we felt that he was your representative, & that, at least by proxy, you were with us. And I thank God, with all my heart, that even such a connection existed between us.

Dr. B. read portion of a letter from you aloud. I used to consider it a sufficient compensation for all the obstructions & troubles of my life, that I had written one letter that I knew had pleased you. Now, I thank God, with a full heart, for all my privileges.

Dr. B. brought the canary22 safely. Johnston magnanimously brought over here for me, & after Dr Bucke's arbitration I agreed to keep it. It is a very affecting & precious souvenir of you to me. Thanks & God bless you.

I expect two or three of the friends here tomorrow—Dr. J. Fred Wild & Greenhalgh.23 G. is bringing some lads to a farm here for an afternoon in a field.

Showery weather all week usually clearing up in the afternoon or towards evening. Beautiful afternoon & evening today—fine cloud & atmospheric effects—& the air deliciously fresh, sweet, & bracing (wind right off the sea).

A good night to you this night. And loving thoughts & wishes for all morrows.
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. See Whitman's postal card to Wallace of July 14, 1891[back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. 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]

5. At this time, Bucke was traveling abroad in England, where he attempted to establish a foreign market for the gas and fluid meter he was building with his brother-in-law William Gurd. During this trip he also spent time with James W. Wallace and Dr. John Johnston, the co-founders of the Bolton College of Whitman admirers, and visited the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Fred Wild (d. 1935), a cotton waste merchant, was a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers and was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. A painter and scholar of Shakespeare, he was also a lively debater. With James W. Wallace and Dr. John Johnston, Wild formed the nucleus of the Bolton Whitman group. For more on Wild and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14.2 (1996), 57–84. [back]

9. Wentworth Dixon (1855–1928) was a lawyer's clerk and a member of the "Bolton College" of Whitman admirers. He was also affiliated with the Labour Church, an organization whose socialist politics and working-class ideals were often informed by Whitman's work. Dixon communicated directly with Whitman only a few times, but we can see in his letters a profound sense of care for the poet's failing health, as well as genuine gratitude for Whitman's continued correspondence with the "Eagle Street College." See Dixon's letters to Whitman of June 13, 1891 and February 24, 1892. For more on Dixon and Whitman's Bolton disciples, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14.2 (1996), 57–84. [back]

10. Thomas Shorrock was a clerk in the Bolton police court. [back]

11. Reverend Frederick Robert Chapman Hutton (1856–1926) was the Vicar of St. George's Church, Bolton, and St. Paul's, Astley Bridge. [back]

12. Reverend Samuel Thompson (b. 1835), originally from Canada, was the last resident minister of the Rivington Unitarian Chapel near Bolton, England; he served as the minister from 1881 to 1909. He hosted and provided entertainment for the Eagle Street College group (later known as the Bolton College and the Bolton Fellowship)—a literary society established by James W. Wallace and Dr. John Johnston, and dedicated to reading and discussing Whitman's work—when they celebrated Whitman's birthday each May 31st. [back]

13. Elizabeth Thompson (b. 1838[?]) was born in Scotland and later married Reverend Samuel Thompson (b. 1835), the minister of Rivington Unitarian Chapel. The couple had a daughter Maggie H. Thompson Pierce (ca. 1868–1910). As yet, we have no information on the couple's son. [back]

14. For Bucke's account of his visit with Wallace and Johnston, see Bucke's July 18, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

15. Little is known about Will Law, who was part of the Bolton College group of English Whitman admirers. Johnston describes Law as the group's "comic man" in a July 18, 1891, letter to Whitman. [back]

16. Whitman's 72nd (and last) birthday was May 31, 1891. [back]

17. 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]

18. Wallace is referring to Whitman's poems "Song of the Universal" and "Prayer of Columbus." [back]

19. Little is known about James Wallace, Sr., who was a millwright. Wallace, Sr. and his wife Margaret Thornburrow Wallace, were the parents of James William Wallace, an architect in Bolton, England. [back]

20. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910), better know by his pen name, Mark Twain, was an American humorist, novelist, lecturer, and publisher. Twain is best known for authoring such novels as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). Twain had attended Whitman's New York lecture in April 1887. He also contributed to Thomas Donaldson's fund for the purchase of a horse and buggy for Whitman (see Whitman's September 22, 1885 letter [note 4]), as well as to the fund to build Whitman a private cottage (see Whitman's October 7, 1887 letter to Sylvester Baxter). Twain was reported in the Boston Herald of May 24, 1887 to have said: "What we want to do is to make the splendid old soul comfortable" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs: Comrades [1931], 268). [back]

21. Jessie Maria Gurd Bucke (1839–1926) grew up in Mooretown, Upper Canada. She was the daughter of William Gurd, an army officer from Ireland. Gurd married Richard Maurice Bucke in 1865. The couple had eight children. [back]

22. When Whitman's canary died, Warry (Whitman's nurse) and Mary Davis (Whitman's housekeeper) had it stuffed and placed on the mantle beneath a photograph. Warry had apparently suggested that the poet give it to the Bolton group. Bucke duly took it with him when he went to England. On August 3 Wallace wrote to Davis: "I need not to tell you how deeply I prize it. It is a very precious & affecting souvenir of Mr. Whitman—of his lonely room, his thoughts & memories, & the cheer received from the canary's (also caged imprisoned) joyous warblings. It connects itself with memories of my mother's like condition—her only companion often a canary too." See the letter from Wallace to Mary Davis in the Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. See also Johnston and Wallace's Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–91 (London, England: G. Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1917), 60–61n. [back]

23. Richard Greenhalgh, a bank clerk and one of Whitman's Bolton admirers, frequently hosted annual celebrations of the poet's birthday. In his March 9, 1892, letter to Traubel, Greenhalgh wrote that "Walt has taught me 'the glory of my daily life and trade.' In all the departments of my life Walt entered with his loving personality & I am never alone" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, March 20, 1892). James Wallace described Greenhalgh as "undoubtedly a rich, royal, plain fellow, not given to ornate word or act" (Sunday, September 27, 1891). For more on Greenhalgh, see Paul Salveson, "Loving Comrades: Lancashire's Links to Walt Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14.2 (1996), 57–84. [back]


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.