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Walt Whitman to Ernest Rhys, 20 July 1887

A fearfully hot month here but I am getting along with it pretty well—H Gilchrist2 is still here—he is well—Still painting my portrait & succeeding—you will see it as it is for London he is working—A sculptor (Sidney Morse)3 is also here—has made a good head4 of me & I want you to have one—I am well pleased with the bookmaking of your edn "Spec: Days"5—shall soon send you more stuff for "Democratic Vistas"6—I wish you send me the next "Fortnightly," if Swinburne's7 piece ab't me is in it8

Walt Whitman

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: Ernest Rhys | Care Walter Scott Publisher | 24 Warwick Lane Paternoster Row | London England. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | Jul 2[illegible] | 4 30 PM | 87. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Sidney H. Morse (1832–1903) was a self-taught sculptor as well as a Unitarian minister and, from 1866 to 1872, editor of The Radical. He visited Whitman in Camden many times and made various busts of him. Whitman had commented on an earlier bust by Morse that it was "wretchedly bad." For more on this, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 105–109. [back]
  • 4. Morse's bust of the poet is reproduced in Edwin Haviland Miller, The Correspondence, Vol. 4 (New York: New York University Press, 1969), following 278 and in Miller's The Artistic Legacy of Walt Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1970), figure 24. The work of a sculptor with perhaps more enthusiasm than talent, it, like Herbert Gilchrist's portrait, was nonetheless admired by Whitman. In his letter to John H. Johnston of September 29, 1887, Whitman wrote that the second plaster head "is the best thing yet." [back]
  • 5. The first issue of Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect was published by the Philadelphia firm of Rees Welsh and Company in 1882. The second issue was published by David McKay. Many of the autobiographical notes, sketches, and essays that focus on the poet's life during and beyond the Civil War had been previously published in periodicals or in Memoranda During the War (1875–1876). For more information on Specimen Days, see George Hutchinson and David Drews "Specimen Days [1882]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 6. Rhys helped publish Specimen Days in America in the British publisher Walter Scott's Camelot Series in 1886, and, in 1887, he would help published Whitman's Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers (1871) in the same series. [back]
  • 7. The British poet, critic, playwright, and novelist Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was one of Whitman's earliest English admirers. At the conclusion of William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), Swinburne pointed out similarities between Whitman and Blake, and praised "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which he termed "the most sweet and sonorous nocturn ever chanted in the church of the world" (300–303). His famous lyric "To Walt Whitman in America" is included in Songs before Sunrise (1871). For the story of Swinburne's veneration of Whitman and his later recantation, see two essays by Terry L. Meyers, "Swinburne and Whitman: Further Evidence," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 14 (Summer 1996), 1–11 and "A Note on Swinburne and Whitman," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 21 (Summer 2003), 38–39. [back]
  • 8. Swinburne's essay "Whitmania," which tempered his earlier enthusiasm for Whitman and declared that Whitman was not a major poet, appeared in the Fortnightly Review, n.s. 42 (August 1, 1887), 170–176. [back]
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