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Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 15 February 1887

 pml_nk.00058_large.jpg Dear Walt Whitman,

Yesterday was indeed a day, for almost every post brought me despatches in your familiar hand which it always gives me a thrill to see. First came the two postcards, then the copy of Specimen Days & the Camden paper, last the letter which I found waiting on returning at midnight from a journalistic excursion to Fleet Street—where I completed an account of a great fire which has been raging just opposite here in a timber wharf for two days & nights,—a most lurid spectacle, with the old Thames as reflector!

I must not decide off-hand about the Specimen Days,—that is, whether to make two vols. as you suggest, or to try & get the whole into one. In the latter case, the book would be rather crowded. We put much less into most of the 'Camelots,' than there is in King Arthur, & give them much larger print, & I want to have you shewn as brightly & impressively as possible in point of typography, &c. On the other hand the publishers might not be willing to issue the 2nd vol., supposing we divide, very soon. I will consult with Gordon1 to-day, & you shall hear at once when the matter is settled.

I do hope that by this you have decided to send off the extra words of introduction! They would give the book an added "send" into the midst of our readers & do a deal of good so. But I know how things are with you, & do not want to give you more trouble than can be helped. For the two addtional photos, many, may thanks! I will see what Gordon says about putting the portrait in at p. 122. In such a cheap series we have to be careful about first cost & this hampers us very much.—

No! I would not think of putting the copy of Specimen Days with your corrections into the printer's hands and will get copies from Wilson of Glasow2, carefully following all your deletions & so on. It is one of the greatest prizes I possess, & someday a sense of its value will inspire me, I'm afraid, to beg you to send me a copy of Leaves of Grass too with your name in it, (& mine, as proof of ownership) & some further inscription as well. You see what it is to give the inch; now I am coolly asking the ell. Most of all though, I feel very powerfully impelled to come over to the States this year, for myself. Dr. Bucke3 pressed me to do so again last week, & things have been working in that direction for some time now. W. S. Kennedy4 has asked me to stay with him too, & there are other friends. If I came, I should have to send letters to the papers here, & perhaps lecture too, to pay my way; for you know the usual straits of a young scribe! I come to my last halfpenny indeed almost every week, & am getting quite used to the condition at last. It educates one's faculties & sympathies tremendously.

I expect Gordon will send off the ten guineas at once. I ask him to do so to-day. They shall be sent by P. O. order as you direct to 328 Mickle St.


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. David Gordon was a bookbinder who was appointed the managing editor of The Walter Scott Publishing Company based in London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Although he had little education, the Scottish editor soon became a driving force in the company's success, creating some of its most well-known editions, such as the Canterbury Poets Series, the Camelot Classics Series, the Great Writers Series, and the Contemporary Science Series. Whitman's 1886 English edition of Leaves of Grass was published by Scott and advertised by Rhys as Whitman's entry into the "Canterbury Poets" series. [back]
  • 2. Frederick W. Wilson was a member of the Glasgow firm of Wilson & McCormick that published the 1883 British edition of Specimen Days and Collect. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. William Sloane Kennedy (1850–1929) was on the staff of the Philadelphia American and the Boston Transcript; he also published biographies of Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier (Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933], 336–337). Apparently Kennedy called on the poet for the first time on November 21, 1880 (William Sloane Kennedy, Reminiscences of Walt Whitman [London: Alexander Gardener, 1896], 1). Though Kennedy was to become a fierce defender of Whitman, in his first published article he admitted reservations about the "coarse indecencies of language" and protested that Whitman's ideal of democracy was "too coarse and crude"; see The Californian, 3 (February 1881), 149–158. For more about Kennedy, see Katherine Reagan, "Kennedy, William Sloane (1850–1929)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
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