Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 28 April 1887

Date: April 28, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: med.00818

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. The transcription presented here is derived from Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), 4:487–488. 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, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock

59 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea,
April 28, 1887

Dear Walt Whitman,

Your two postcards are to hand. I expect the printed slips to Preface and Additional Note have reached you ere this; I told the publishers to forward them. We have taken great pains to make the reprint correct—following the American spelling, &c., faithfully. It is all out of my hands now, and I do hope everything will turn out well. It has been rather a troubled time with me lately, with far too much work on hand to do everything with the ample margin for revisal that I like, but all's well that ends well. As there was some uncertainty about the process reproduction of that photo, for frontispiece or inserted plate, and having the unlucky experience of the portrait in L. of G. to go by, we decided to leave the portrait out altogether. Better none at all, as you say, than a bad one.

By this post I send a copy of the Pall Mall Gazette with a paragraph taken from the Additional Note to the new vol. The P.M.G usually treats me rather cavalierly over my own things: the young fellows who do the literary part, and do it capitally too—Henry Norman1, O. Wilde2 and so on—are most of them university men, with rather a contempt for unacademic outsiders. In the case of this paragraph I got young Horne to propose it to Norman, and so worked the oracle. In the same paper, notice the article, Some April Insects, by Richard Jefferies.3 I think you will like it. Jefferies is one of our best writers on Nature over here; his writing is at once true and subtle, and very natural and simple withal. Did you ever read his Story of My Heart? A very passionate confession of faith and fear it was, with a sentiment in it that made some of the critics say it must be inspired by your L. of G. If you have not yet seen it, I should like to send it on. Jefferies is editing the vol. to follow yours in the series—White's Selborne. He writes to tell me that he is an invalid, poor lover of all things bright and helpful. He lives down in Sussex, near the sea.

W.S. Kennedy4 sent over a fresh batch of addenda for his book. It is unfortunate—this delay through Wilson's illness; but Kennedy takes it very cheerily. He seems a fine impulsive fellow by his letters. In the last one he proposes that I should try some other schemes for getting the book afloat. We shall see. This evening Herbert Gilchrist5 is coming down here to look through Kennedy's book, and something may suggest itself to us. We are going on afterwards to Costelloe's, as H.G. is anxious to know Mrs. C.,6 who has been away in Surrey over Easter with her husband. I look forward with delight to seeing her again. She is truly a most noble and delightful nature. She is a little afraid perhaps of your deterministic theories (further elaborated by Doctor Bucke7) and non-moral apotheosis of evil; but that is natural enough. I, too, often doubt any absolute empire, even the most cosmic, over the human will: that is my feeling only, for I don't pretend to any philosophical complete creed.

I was glad to hear of the great success of your Lincoln lecture.8 Would that I had been there to hear it. I should like to have come over with H. Gilchrist, but cannot manage to leave so soon. He will be with you I expect in the course of a few weeks more.

Are you going up to Doctor Bucke's place for the summer?

Affectionately yours,
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. Sir Henry Norman (1858–1939) was a writer and liberal politican from England. After moving to the United States to study at Harvard, he wrote for the Pall Mall Gazette and the News Chronicle[back]

2. Rhys is referring to the Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. Wilde had visited Whitman in Camden three years earlier, on January 22, 1882. An account of their meeting appeared on the following day in the Philadelphia Press[back]

3. Richard Jefferies (1848–1887) was a British nature writer, who frequently published in the Pall Mall Gazette[back]

4. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

6. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." For more information about Costelloe, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

7. 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]

8. This is a reference to Whitman's lecture entitled "The Death of Abraham Lincoln." He first delivered this lecture in New York in 1879 and would deliver it at least eight other times over the succeeding years, delivering it for the last time on April 15, 1890. He published a version of the lecture as "Death of Abraham Lincoln" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882–83). For more on the lecture, see Larry D. Griffin, "'Death of Abraham Lincoln,'" Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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