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Ernest Rhys to Walt Whitman, 2 March 1889

 tex_ao.00012.jpg The Camelot Series. Edited by Ernest Rhys. My dear Walt Whitman,

During the past day or two I have been arranging your portraits for the 'Scottish Art Review' (where they will probably appear in the May number), and at the same time I have been reading November Boughs1 with great delight—Mrs. Costelloe's2 copy of the book! There is a double stimulus in your poems & prose writings, now that I am able to read between the lines, feeling all the time as if I can still see you in your great arm-chair—as during my visits a year ago,—a never failing friendly presence behind the black-&-white of the printed page. It is this impression that I must try to convey as far as may be in my article in the S. A. Review accompanying the portraits. —I wonder by the way whether Gilchrist3 would allow me to reproduce the photo. from his painting at the same time. Perhaps you will say a word to him about this?

Since coming back to London from my pleasant jaunt in South Wales—when I had a capital time of it in exploring Worm's Head & the Gower coast,—  tex_ao.00013.jpgI have been grinding away pretty hard at mere literary work—more than I like indeed, for I want to be less & less literary in the narrow sense henceforth, & go in for expressing life direct rather than dealing with other people's books. This is a lesson of course that L. of Grass teach me. So my instinct for life & the open road grows stronger every day. "Right Jack Health!" as Keats said,4—Health before everything!

Living in London need not mean any excess of mere literariness, however. There's no such place for Life after all. Even New York has not such tumult—such human interplay & variety. Everyday something new & inspiring discovers itself in the familiar ways. This struck me in walking along the Embankment from Westminster to Waterloo Bridges this afternoon with the tide—higher than usual—just at the full; the river alive with various craft. The sight would have pleased you well.

I believe I told you that my sister Edith5 was with me here. She is going in for music, & at this moment is thundering away at Wagner's 'Flying Dutchman' on the piano. We called on Mrs. Costelloe the other day, & found her very well. Edith quite fell in love with her.

Getting dusk as I finish this just in time for post. Hope you are feeling better every way. Edith sends her love. Mine goes without saying. Remember me to all good friends.

always affectionately 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. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. John Keats, in a March 17, 1817, letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, wrote: "Banish money—Banish sofas—Banish Wine—Banish Music, but right Jack Health, honest Jack Health, true Jack Health—Banish health and banish all the world." (Keats, Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends, ed. Sidney Colvin [London: Macmillan, 1925], 4). [back]
  • 5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
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