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Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 24 May 1890


Greeting, my dear Poet, for your 71st birthday—now so close at hand,—greeting & all good wishes! These wishes have a new force to-day, when we watch your ship of fate end yet another year's voyage—after storms & many troubles of wind & weather. I trust the new year's voyage will at least be less painful,—free from such vexations as that of my Lady, La Grippe, who, like the rest of us, seems to have become only too fond of you.

Your letter of 11th inst1—with slips encd—— reached me last evening, only just in time! for the passage oversea seems to have taken 12 days instead of 10. On first opening your letter I did not realise that next morning was the 24th, & went off unconcernedly enough to  loc.03343.002.jpg a little gathering of some friends of mine, (who call themselves the 'Rhymesters' Club'), which took place in the garden of the old 'Spaniards' Inn near here—on Hampstead Heath. There, after we had regaled in a green arbour, just as twilight stole down upon the groups of trees & the green fields below us, I drew out your 'Twilight Song', telling the fellows you had just sent it, & read it to them,—to their profound delight (though I'm afraid I read it badly enough).

Later when I got back here to my rooms, & read your reference to the slips again, I realised that if they were to be in any editors' hands in time for to-day's papers they must be despatched somehow at once! This led to a notable night-excursion from these heights of Hampstead down to Fleet-street, where I arrived something after midnight, going part of the way by train—to Camden Town Sta. (for we have a Camden too), part by train or horse-car. Though so late, when I passed the portico of the  loc.03343.003.jpg Covent Garden Opera-house, the carriages were still in full-swing— at nearly half-past Twelve. There must have been an unusually long performance;—Wagner's 'Lohengrin' had been given! Returning via Drury Lane—a choice place for scenes in the Cockney comedy & tragedy!—the struggles & awful oaths of a madly drunken women in a dark passage formed a little picture dreadful in the extreme, & yet very dramatic. In Oxford street then, feeling tired, I took a cab ('hansom,' with capital driver & fast horse) for a couple of miles or so; & after that climbed the hill to Hampstead cheerfully enough under the stars—for it was an almost perfect May night. The clock struck Two—as I heard through the trees that surround this place—just as I got into bed; & so ended a memorable jaunt. Thus, you see, that verse to the Queen has something of a history after its arrival in London.


The only paper which seems to have put the par. in is the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' which put on its posters very conspicuously—'the Queen's Birthday: Verses by Walt Whitman!' so that one saw it at every street-corner & news-stall. I suppose your name was never so extenseivly paraded in the outside public of London before! This well makes up for the unaccountable remissness of the morning papers—whose chief editors have in some cases gone away for Whitsuntide holidays, I imagine, & left careless subs. in their place! I send copy of 'P.M.G.' & also 'P.M. Budget'2 with article of mine on J.A. Symonds3 reprinted, in very curtailed form, from the Gazette of a few days earlier. I must get the 'Budget' to put you in its portrait-gallery on front page, one of these days.—

Many of your friends here have been asking after you lately. All, I think, remain much as ever.—I hope you will have weather as good as we have been having this May in London for your birthday. It is the finest Spring we have had for years.

With remembrance to all friends, & again love & good wishes for your birthday,Ernest Rhys

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. See Whitman's letter to Ernest Rhys of May 11, 1890. [back]
  • 2. The Pall Mall Budget was a weekly digest of articles from the daily Pall Mall Gazette, published in London starting in 1868. [back]
  • 3. John Addington Symonds (1840–1893), a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy, as well as Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), and a translator of Michelangelo's sonnets. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known. See Andrew C. Higgins, "Symonds, John Addington [1840–1893]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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