Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to James W. Wallace, 28 May 1891

Date: May 28, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: med.00916

Source: The location of this manuscript is unknown. Miller derives his transciption from a transcript of the letter published in Dr. John Johnston and James W. Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends, (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1917), 256–257. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:205. 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




New Jersey, U.S. America
May 28, '91

Still badly prostrated—horrible torpidity. Y'rs & Dr [Johnston]'s1 letters rec'd2 & cheer me much. Am sitting here in big chair at this moment.

I guess I have a good deal of the feeling of Epictetus3 & stoicism, or tried to have. They are specially needed in a rich & luxurious & even scientific age—But I am clear that I include & allow & probably teach some things stoicism would frown upon & discard—One's pulses & marrow are not democratic & natural for nothing—Let Plato's4 steeds prance & curvet & drive at their utmost, but the master's grip & eyes & brain must retain the ultimate power for all, or things are lost.

Give my loving compliments to all the boys,5 & give this scrawl to Wentworth Dixon6 to keep if he cares for it.7


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. 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]

2. See Wallace and Johnston's letter to Whitman of May 26–27, 1891[back]

3. Epictetus (c. 50–c. 135 AD) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. [back]

4. Plato (c. 428/427 or 424/423–348/347 BC) was an Athenian philosopher in Ancient Greece during the Classical Period. A student of Socrates, Plato founded the Academy, the first higher learning institution in the Western world, as well as the Platonist school of thought. He was also the teacher of the Greek philosopher Artistotle. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to the "Bolton College," a group of English admirers of Whitman that was co-founded by Wallace and Johnston. [back]

6. 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, vol. 14, no. 2, 57–84. [back]

7. On April 17, 1891, Wallace sent Whitman 21 shillings for a copy of the pocket-book edition of Leaves of Grass, which was to be presented to Dixon on his birthday (typescript: County Borough of Bolton (England) Public Libraries). Dixon thanked the poet for the letter and the book on June 13, 1891[back]


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