Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 29 March 1887

Date: March 29, 1887

Whitman Archive ID: uva.00489

Source: Papers of Walt Whitman (MSS 3829), Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, Albert H. Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. 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.

Editorial notes: Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of April 11, 1887 is written on the last verso of Rhys' letter.

Related item: Whitman wrote his April 11, 1887, letter to William Sloane Kennedy on the verso of the first page of this letter from Rhys. Whitman included this letter as an enclosure for Kennedy. See uva.00430.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Ashland, Stefan Schöberlein, Caterina Bernardini, and Stephanie Blalock



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59 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea,
London, S.W. England
29th March 1887.

Dear Walt Whitman

Your letter of the 15th with the 'Additional Note' was not long in following the other,1 & with it the 'Specimen Days' vol. is now splendidly complete.2 As the book stands now, there is a native unity about it, more I think than when it was given together with the 'Democratic Vistas.' These later parts of the original 'S. Days & Collect' will follow naturally as the more theoretic exposition of your life & thought, prepared for effectively & made so of greater effect, it seems to me. With the D. Vistas completed3 in turn, my cup will be overflowing indeed. It is something I think of enthusiastically that soon they will both be in the hands of the gay fellows everywhere, whose energies will presently be master of the spirit of the time. And what you have added to the book is so exactly what was wanted to give it direct appeal to us here, & bring it into touch. Personally I cannot say how grateful I feel for these gifts you have made me the almoner of. As for the 'Democratic Vistas,' I hope you will be able to let us have some of the essays & papers that have appeared in the Critic & other publications, to add to it. As you know, the copy we have now by us is hardly enough to make a full volume. You shall be duly apprised of the publishing details, of both vols. as time goes on. We propose an interval of four to six or eight months between the 2 vols. so that there is plenty of time to settle about the 2nd. Already the news that you have published additional matter to the 'Specimen Days in America' has excited great interest among those who know you here.

I told you I was going to see Mrs. Costelloe4 the other evening. Count Stenbock5 arrived here in a fast hansom in his usual erratic way, & whirled me off there about nine o'clock, & we had 'a good time' then till midnight, including the brewing of a wassail bowl (non-alcoholic) with comic result by Steinbock & an American girl who was there. Mrs. Costelloe impressed me most delightfully. She is one of the five or six noblest women I have come across; I say this quite deliberately. I would give a great deal to be able to meet & talk with such an one often, & I am sorry that the C's are going away to the country for Easter for my own sake; though on the other hand it is a sin that such a superb creature should be cooped up in a place like London, under society restrictions at all, & as she is nearing the time of motherhood, one ought only to be glad at her escape to the fields & flowers & free air. Costelloe6 himself is of too hard an intellectuality I am afraid, to give us much in common, but I get on with almost everybody, & I can see that he is at any rate a very genuine & capable fellow in his way.—By the by Mrs. C. shewed me two portraits of you which I had not seen before, & she told me to ask you for a copy of one, called by her the King Lear one. She said she would tell you about it in her next letter. Before we came away, she read out your preface to the assembled little company of guests—mainly Americans, & it was received with enthusiasm, for besides its own natural effect she read it very impressively. Curiously enough Roden Noel7 had been there the same afternoon. I go down to dine with him occasionally at his place near the Crystal Palace. He is very sympathetic with L. of G. Costelloe was rather making fun of him from Mrs. C's description, because he accepted Hegel & spiritualism & sundry other paradoxical positions on thought. There is a fine fund of manhood in Noel though. He is better on the sea-shore than in his study, where indeed he is rather apt to grow unprofitably vague over questions of poetry & philosophy, which is to say Roden Noel & Hegel chiefly.

I had a piece of rather awkward news about W.S. Kennedy's8 book9 this morning. After writing many times in vain to Wilson,10 I had a note from his brother to say that he is ill again, & cannot arrange about the book at present, returning it to me accordingly. It is very unfortunate indeed, for it is very difficult to get a book of unconventional character afloat in the cockney world of publishers. There is some chance of Wilson's being able to take the book in the autumn, but that is such a long time to wait.11

Spring has fairly set in here at last. I hope it is the same with you. I have many a good ramble far & wide here, & there is much to see on the riverside always. They are building a new bridge (Battersea Bge) close by, & I often go & watch them at their pile-driving & so on. The thump of the monkey on the piles goes on night & day; after dark they have an electric light which sends a fine gleam across here. But it's [short?]-time, & I must stop for to-day. Goodbye!


Ernest Rhys


Correspondent:
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).

Notes:

1. See Whitman's letter of March 15, 1887[back]

2. Rhys mentioned on February 15, 1887 that separate publication of Specimen Days and Democratic Vistas was about to be considered by the publisher Walter Scott. Whitman noted sending to Rhys a two-page preface to Specimen Days on March 8 and an "Additional Note" on March 15 (Whitman's Commonplace Book [Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.]). Rhys here notes the receipt of the "Additional Note." [back]

3. Rhys is referring to the UK edition of Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers, which would be published in London by Walter Scott in 1888. [back]

4. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, 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]

5. Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock (1860–1895) was a Swedish-English author of decadent and macabre fiction and poetry. He lived in England most of his life. [back]

6. Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]

7. Roden Noel (1834–1894) was an English poet. Noel came from an aristocratic English family, and in his youth developed socialist sympathies. He was a close friend of the poet and influential critic Robert Buchanan, and it may have been through Buchanan that Noel first encountered Leaves of Grass, in 1871 (the same year that he first wrote to Whitman). In 1871, Noel published an essay entitled "A Study of Walt Whitman" in The Dark Blue (Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1934], 147–149). [back]

8. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and later published biographies of Longfellow and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography). Apparently Kennedy had called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [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]

9. This manuscript was the first of several drafts of what became two books, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman (London: Alexander Gardner, 1896) and The Fight of a Book for the World (West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The Stonecroft Press, 1926). [back]

10. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect[back]

11. Alexander Gardner (1821–1882), a publisher in Paisley, Scotland—who reissued a number of books by and about Whitman—ultimately published William Sloane Kennedy's Reminiscences of Walt Whitman in 1896 after a long and contentious battle with Kennedy over editing the book. [back]


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