Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Ernest Rhys, 22 January 1890

Date: January 22, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00727

Source: The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 6:49. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ryan Furlong, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

Camden New Jersey U S America1
January 22 1890

My dear E R2

Y'rs regularly rec'd & welcom'd (I often send them afterward to Dr Bucke,3 Canada)—

I am still here, no very mark'd or significant change or happening—fairly buoyant spirits &c—but surely slowly ebbing—at this moment sitting here in my den Mickle Street by the oak wood fire, in the big strong old chair with wolf-skin spread over back—bright sun, cold, dry winter day—America continues generally busy enough all over her vast demesnes (intestinal agitation I call it)—talking, plodding, making money, every one trying to get on—perhaps to get toward the top—but no special individual signalism—(just as well I guess)—I write without any particular purpose, but I tho't I w'd show you I appreciate y'r kindness & remembrance—The two slips enclosed you are at liberty to do what you like with4—affectionate remembrance to the dear sister5

Walt Whitman

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. This letter is addressed: Ernest Rhys | Care Walter Scott 24 Warwick Lane | Paternoster Row | London | England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jan 23 | 6 AM | 90; London E.C. | C | Fe 3 90 | AK. [back]

2. This letter originally appeared in The Correspondence of Walt Whitman, Volume 5: 1890–1892. That version was based on a transcript that appeared in Pall Mall Gazette on February 8, 1890, and that Whitman used in Good-bye My Fancy (1890). The current transcription, which appeared The Correspondence, Volume 6: A Supplement with a Composite Index, is based on the manuscript letter in The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library. The transcription of the manuscript letter reinstates Whitman's salute as well as the first line. It also reveals that the line stating "America continues generally busy enough..." was changed to "America continues—is generally busy enough..." in the Pall Mall Gazette[back]

3. 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]

4. The slips Whitman is referring to are most likely copies of "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's," which appeared in the February 1890 issue of the Century magazine. The poet sent "slips" to Mary Smith Costelloe, as well as her brother and father. See his January 22, 1890, letter to her. [back]

5. Edith Rhys, who was involved in music and in British theatre as an actor and director (she directed and acted in the production of one of Ernest Rhys's plays, The Masque of the Grail, in 1908 at the Court Theatre), was Ernest Rhys's sister. She visited Whitman in June of 1887; Whitman briefly describes the visit in his letter to Ernest Rhys of June 26, 1887. She began study at the London Academy of Music the following year. See also Rhys's letters to Whitman of March 2, 1889, and of January 3, 1888[back]


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