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Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 11 October 1888

 loc.03334.001.jpg My dear Walt Whitman,

Your card was welcomed the other day; but I was sorry it did not give a better account of your present condition. I hope the bright American autumn weather will serve you better than the summer has done,—bringing a renascence of the imagination at least.

If in imagination you could only come to this Welsh mountain valley, & go exploring some of its mountain sides & its swift streams with me in this splendid October sunshine,—this alone would be a sufficient medecine medicine for the soul surely! I suppose these late weeks here have been the happiest of my life,—in the sense of physical delight at any rate; & the keen pure air makes one mentally alert & energetic too. A good  loc.03334.002.jpg part of every day goes in excursions across the mountains, but I usually write in the mornings & evenings—of necessity, & so get through a fair amount of work.

The life of the farm, which you know so well in the States, is essentially the same here no doubt. Harvest is late this year, & on some farms the corn is not yet all gathered in; but here at Blaen Sawdde, the two energetic sons of the house working under the shrewd & restless direction of their father, the last field was stacked ten days or more ago. Old William Williams,2 the father, is a typical Welsh peasant of the better class. He is just seventy years old, & except for indigestion & occasional rheumatism, is very hale & strong for his age, as I found out one day soon after coming here, when he took up the hatchet to show me how to chop a log of wood in two. Of the two sons now at home, the eldest David3 is about 34 years old, & William4 about 25.


Like most Welshmen, they are both good singer's​ , & take bass in the parish church on Sundays. William moreover is a remarkably comely & well-built youth, without an evil trick in his whole nature. It is really inspiring to see him at work: he does everything with such ease & strength. And he is equally quick mentally, and reads English & Welsh readily & with imagination. I almost envy him his self-reliance & manly sufficiency.

Two days ago quite a momentous event,—the bi-annual sale by auction of sheep, cattle & mountain ponies, took place at the farm, & some hundreds of farmers rode across the mountains & from the surrounding hamlets to attend it. The sight of so many sturdy countrymen, with their ponies & beautiful collie dogs, would have delighted you greatly. A plentiful supply of Welsh ale & beef & mutton & other things made a feast quite Baronial, & put them all into good humour. In the evening the younger fellows wrestled on  loc.03334.004.jpg the grass until the new moon sank behind the hills & it was too dark to see any longer. Later they sat round the fire, & sang & told stories,—all in Welsh of course, & some score or more of them did not return home, but stayed here & sat up all night, continuing the fun. Altogether a fine experience for me, as you may imagine. Every day I gather in this way some new association to add to my store; & all the while I am picking up the Welsh idiom, difficult as it is, & hope in a month or two to be able to read the old Welsh MSS. poetry & romances chiefly at the British Museum.

I am glad to think that November Boughs5 & the complete 900 page volume6 are so nearly ready, & look forward to having them. It is within the bounds of possibility that I may write a review of the complete book for one of our leading monthlies,—the XIXth Century7 or Fortnightly Review;8 but I must not be too sure.

If Gilchrist9 is with you, give him greetings. & Mrs. Davis10 too.

With much love, Ernest Rhys

I shall probably stay here two or three weeks more, & then go to London after a short stay in the Vale of Avallon in Somerset.

 loc.03334.005.jpg See note Jan 12 1889 Ernest Rhys  loc.03334.006.jpg

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: to Walt Whitman, | Mickle St. | Camden, | New Jersey, | U.S.A. It is postmarked: LONDON N.W | X | JA 5 | 89; Camden N. J. | Jan | 17 | 6 AM | [illegible] | Rec'd; PAID | B | [illegible]. There is one additional postmark that is entirely illegible. [back]
  • 2. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 5. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Whitman wanted to publish a "big book" that included all of his writings, and, with the help of Horace Traubel, Whitman made the presswork and binding decisions for the volume. Frederick Oldach bound Whitman's Complete Poems & Prose (1888), which included a profile photo of the poet on the title page. The book was published in December 1888. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (University of Iowa: Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 2005). [back]
  • 7. The Nineteenth Century Review was a British monthly literary magazine founded in 1877. [back]
  • 8. The Fortnightly Review was a prominent British magazine founded in 1865. [back]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. Mary Oakes Davis (1837 or 1838–1908) was Whitman's housekeeper. For more, see Carol J. Singley, "Davis, Mary Oakes (1837 or 1838–1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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