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Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 23 October 1889

 loc.03340.001.jpg Dear Walt Whitman,

Glad to have yours of Oct. 7th, with added note from Bucke.1 He, I daresay, is not altogether wrong about my other self, who is possessed at times with the itch of Transcendentalism to a notable degree, & is always wishing to grasp the impossible. However the philosophy of L. of G. has well been wholly lost on him; & the late adventure of Wales has had richly human results in many ways.  loc.03340.002.jpg I believe I last wrote to you from Carmarthen, where I stayed with my dear grand-parents, making excursions far & wide,—to all the old castles & pleasant sea-slopes & hill-crests within reach.2 There one day, standing on Merlin's Hill,

"Where once old Merlin stood And saw the silver Towy fill with flood!"

& looking to the sea on one side, & to the Llyn-y-fan region (where I stayed last year) on the other, a new sense of human destiny, & of the epic continuity from old Wales to new America in the history of races, came upon me. Which Art & Time may yet keep me to  loc.03340.003.jpg fully express. And many such stirring thoughts, (as I dropped with ready strides down those Welsh mountains at nightfall, or arm-in-arm with my Grandfather listened to his stories of his youth,) used to come from time to time, quickening me out of the ruts of literary convention & routine.

From Carmarthen, on to Swansea,—a seaport town! Here I stayed with a bright young fellow at his seaside cot at the Mumbles,—a picturesque village amid curious cliffs. Here too I lectured,—on Bohemian London, & went through a round of feastings & jollifications. (I am just posting an article or two on Swansea to a London paper, copy of which shall be sent you when the thing is in print).


No doubt you have had some account of this delightful country place from me before. Here my Uncle Percival,3 who is a Naturalist & Poultry-fancier, among other things, has a house almost ideal in its way—the old-fashioned English way! I wish you could see it. The house stands amid great lawns & gardens on the slopes of the Vale of Avallon, with Glastonbury Tor in the distance rising up mysteriously, capped by a solitary old tower. I am just about to set off to climb it, and as I stand there shall remember to wing yet another shaft of imagination to you sitting solitary perchance in Mickle St.! With all desires, that you may have poet's thoughts still to drive off pain, & indeed everything that you yourself desire!—

With most loving remembrances Ernest Rhys

Shall be glad to have 'Birthday' book!—I shall probably be back in London in a fortnight's time.4

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. 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]
  • 2. See Rhys's letter to Whitman of September 11, 1889. [back]
  • 3. Rhys is likely referring to Percy Percival (1845–1912), who was his mother's brother and the son of Robert F. Percival (1801–1868) and Mary Stallibrass (1802–1851). Percy was a licensed victualler in Somerset, England, and he was the author of "Homing Pigeons: Their Racing Value," which was published in the June 1911 issue of Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes. He was also the winner of numerous awards from the Royal Agricultural Society of England for his breeds of ducks and drakes. Percy lived with Ernest Rhys's family in Northumberland until 1875, when Percy married. [back]
  • 4. This postscript note appears in the left margin of the first page of the letter. [back]
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