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James W. Wallace to Walt Whitman, 20 February 1891

 loc_vm.01107.jpg My dear Walt Whitman,

I was extremely pleased yesterday morning to receive your post card of the 10th1 inst., with its cheerful account of yourself and its loving benediction. Thank you from my heart.

How much I feel your kindness I cannot fully tell you. But if,  loc_vm.01108.jpg (as you say) you "sent out 'Leaves of Grass' to arouse, & set flowing, endless streams of living, pulsating love & friendship, directly from us to yourself, now & ever."2—you have still further done so, in our fortunate experience, by your continued loving-kindnesses & affectionate words. Thanks, and again thanks, & God bless you.

To your "terrible, irrepressible yearning—your  loc_vm.01109.jpg never-satisfied appetite for sympathy"—alas! we can only partially respond, (for what are we?) but our heart's best love is yours, and a reverence & gratitude such as we feel towards no one else.

We are deeply sorry to learn that you have been so unwell of late. We hoped that the improved condition of your health reported to us at Christmastide had continued,—until we were alarmed by a newspaper  loc_vm.01110.jpg paragraph which seemed to shew that you had had a bad relapse. It is reassuring now to learn that it has not been so bad as we feared, & that you "might be much worse."—& we hope to hear better news before long.

The other night I picked up a little book at the Railway bookstall, which I have been looking over tonight. It is called: "In Darkest London"  loc_vm.01103.jpg and is a story of a Salvation Army captain engaged in the East end. It gives a very painful & realistic account of the horrible misery, destitution & vice prevailing, & of the noble self-sacrificing effects of men & women, (Agnostics, Salvationists &c) who, with love & pity, do what they can to lessen its misery. The hero of the story breaks down in health, & is ordered into Kent, where he visits a  loc_vm.01104.jpg village graveyard.—"Long grass grew over the graves, such as Walt Whitman calls 'the hair of the dead'" &c &c.3

To find your name in such a story was like seeing a beam of light in a dark place. And I was glad to think of, & to read once more, your "Song of the Universal," & to be cheered by its "quenchless faith."4


Last night I called to enquire about a young girl, (18), who is slowly dying. It stirred me to hear the accounts of her:—"a triumph of patience. When she is the better side out she is always singing. (Can scarcely hear her speak but sings pretty clearly)—and when in pain praising."

"Out of the mouths of babes & sucklings Thou hast ordained strength," and things  loc_vm.01106.jpg "hid from the wise & prudent" are "revealed to babes."5 Surely this is the victory that overcomes the world—a victory we should all share—the glad soul recognizing tender love & care & grounds for hope—in all the circumstances of life & death.

I cannot write any more now. But with best love always

I remain Yours affectionately J.W. Wallace

James William Wallace (1853–1926), of Bolton, England, was an architect and great admirer of Whitman. Wallace, along with Dr. John Johnston (1852–1927), a physician in Bolton, founded the "Bolton College" of English admirers of the poet. Johnston and Wallace corresponded with Whitman and with Horace Traubel and other members of the Whitman circle in the United States, and they separately visited the poet and published memoirs of their trips in John Johnston and James William Wallace, Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890–1891 by Two Lancashire Friends (London: Allen and Unwin, 1917). For more information on Wallace, see Larry D. Griffin, "Wallace, James William (1853–1926)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. See Whitman's February 10, 1891, postal card to Wallace. [back]
  • 2. Here and in the next paragraph, Wallace is quoting from a note in Whitman's "Preface, 1876," included in his Specimen Days & Collect. See the first full paragraph of the note in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees, Welsh, &Company, 1882–1883), 285. [back]
  • 3. The novel In Darkest London (1891) was written by Margaret Harkness (1854–1923) under the pseudonym John Law. It was originally published as Captain Lobe: a story of the Salvation Army (1889). Wallace's quotation refers to section 6 of Whitman's "Song of Myself," in which Whitman describes the grass as the "beautiful uncut hair of graves." [back]
  • 4. Wallace is referring to Whitman's "Song of the Universal," which was first published in the New York Daily Graphic and The New York Evening Post on June 17, 1874. [back]
  • 5. Wallace quotes from Psalms 8:2. [back]
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