C.F. Sixsmith Collection of Traubel Correspondence

Scope and Content

This collection consists of letters written by Horace Traubel (and three by his wife, Anne) to J.W. Wallace, Dr John Johnston, and Charles F. Sixsmith in Lancashire. The letters addressed to Wallace and Johnston clearly came into Sixsmith's possession at some point and were added to his own collection of Traubel correspondence. Although there are some later letters, the majority date from 1891-4, the period leading up to and following the death of Whitman in March 1892. The letters form an invaluable source for Whitman studies, their contents embracing such topics as: the relationships between individual members of the international Whitman community, particularly links between the close-knit circle of Whitmanites in America and the Bolton group in England; Wallace's visit to America to see the poet and the Traubel family; Whitman's last illness; reactions to the poet's death among those closest to him; Traubel's work as a literary executor, and his role as a leading promoter of the Whitman cause after the poet's death; the visionary ideas of democracy and brotherhood Traubel and others found in Whitman's work, and the slightly different interpretation of Whitman's message by British socialists; Traubel's proposals for an international organisation of Whitmanites, which were not well- received by the Bolton group; and Traubel's family life and constant financial struggles.

The Wallace and Johnston correspondence consists only of those letters which came into the possession of Sixsmith. Other letters to Wallace and Johnston sent by Traubel over the same period are held at Bolton Archive Service; this means that apparent gaps in the chronological sequence of letters in this collection may be filled in by material held at Bolton.

All letters are holograph and consist of one sheet of paper unless stated otherwise.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Frederick Sixsmith was one of six brothers from Anderton, near Chorley in Lancashire. He worked at Bentinck Mills, Farnworth, a company engaged in the dyeing and manufacture of woven cotton goods for the West African market, where he held the post of managing director for 40 years until his retirement in 1933. He was also active in local government, being a member of Chorley Rural District Council for 37 years, and he played a part in the early socialist movement in Britain. He stood on a number of boards set up to discuss working conditions and industrial relations, and belonged to various associations concerned with craft, design and factory made goods. He had two sons and a daughter, and died in February 1954 at the age of 83.

Most important in relation to this collection is Sixsmith's interest in socialism and his love of literature, particularly the work of the American poet Walt Whitman. He was introduced to Whitman by J.W. Wallace, who moved to Anderton in 1890 and soon became a close friend of Sixsmith. Wallace, an architect's assistant from Bolton, had first turned to the poetry of Whitman as a source of spiritual solace after the death of his mother in 1885. He was inspired by the message he found there, and underwent a form of spiritual transformation, attaining what he described as a new state of consciousness. He was subsequently looked upon as a spiritual leader, and a figure who could provide guidance and support for friends and acquaintances who were experiencing difficulties in their lives. He had a wide circle of contacts among the leading figures of the contemporary socialist movement, many of whom shared his interest in Whitman. The early socialists in Britain were attracted by Whitman's ideas on love and comradeship, democracy and nature, and the poet was taken up as a prophet for the socialist cause.

Wallace's love of Whitman found expression in his role as master of the so-called 'Eagle Street College'. This informal group was established in 1885 when Wallace, with his close friends Dr John Johnston (a GP based in Bolton) and Fred Wild (a cotton waste merchant and active socialist), began to hold regular meetings at Wallace's home in Eagle Street, Bolton, to read and discuss literary works, particularly the poetry of Whitman. Other members of the group (which became known as the Bolton Whitman Fellowship) came and went over the years, many of them forming lifelong attachments on the basis of their shared political beliefs and love of Whitman's work. A regular event in their calendar was the annual 'Whitman Day' celebration held on or near the poet's birthday on 31 May. Wallace and Johnston both corresponded with Whitman himself from 1887 to 1892, the year of the poet's death. Johnston made a pilgrimage to America in 1890, visiting Whitman at his last home in Camden, New Jersey, as well as various other localities associated with the poet's life. Wallace visited Whitman in 1891, following Johnston's example in keeping a detailed diary of his experiences; these two accounts were subsequently published as Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890- 1891 (1917).

The Whitman college meetings continued after Wallace's move to Anderton, and he first invited Sixsmith to attend in the early 1890s. Sixsmith, a young man at the time, was grateful for the friendship and support he received from Wallace, who encouraged his interest in Whitman. Through Wallace and the Bolton group, he came into contact with many prominent figures in the early British socialist movement, such as Edward Carpenter, who became a lifelong friend. Wallace also corresponded with various friends and admirers of Whitman in America, such as Horace Traubel (writer, friend and defender of Whitman), John Burroughs (naturalist, writer and friend of the poet) and Dr Richard Maurice Bucke (Whitman's official biographer). This gave Sixsmith the opportunity to share his interests and ideas with like-minded individuals in America.

Sixsmith and Wallace remained close until at least 1910, when they seem to have had a disagreement of some kind; they certainly grew more distant at this time. Sixsmith continued to pursue his Whitman interests, however, building up an impressive book collection. The Bolton group continued in a more modest form after the death of Wallace in 1926, and Sixsmith remained involved in the annual Whitman birthday celebrations until at least the late 1930s.

Horace Logo Traubel (1858-1919) is one of the better-known American figures with whom Sixsmith became acquainted as a result of his connection with the Bolton Whitman circle. Wallace stayed with the Traubels when he visited Whitman in 1891, and they kept up a voluminous correspondence. Traubel wrote almost daily to Wallace and Johnston during Whitman's final illness, and began writing to Sixsmith in August 1892 following an introduction from Wallace.

Traubel came from Camden, New Jersey; he was the fifth of seven children born to Maurice Henry and Katherine Traubel. He left school at the age of 12, and over the next 32 years he pursued a variety of occupations, including jobs in the printing and newspaper trade, and a long period working as a bank clerk. In 1902, however, he turned to free-lance journalism. He had already founded his own monthly paper, The Conservator, in 1890 and he continued to publish this, often at a financial loss, until the year of his death. He supplemented his income by undertaking other journalistic work and producing three volumes of poetry, Chants Communal(1904),Optimos (1910) and Collects(1915).

Traubel's family first became acquainted with Whitman a short time after the poet moved to his final home in Mickle Street, Camden, in 1873. As a teenager Traubel forged a friendship with Whitman, and they became very close in the years leading up to the poet's death in 1892. Traubel was greatly influenced by Whitman and his ideas on freedom, democracy, and 'comradely love'. He went beyond Whitman in his political beliefs, ultimately stating his support of Marxian socialism; his political ideas, however, were grounded more in religious and spiritual concepts than practical social and economic concerns. He appreciated the spiritual dimension in Whitman's work, viewing the poet as a great prophet, and criticized the literary elite whose evaluations of Whitman ignored this spiritual element.

Traubel was a constant companion to Whitman during his last illness. He spent much of his time in the house at Mickle Street, and his marriage to Anne Montgomerie took place there in May 1891. He was at the centre of a small and close-knit group of Whitman disciples, who rallied around the poet at the end of his life. Whitman died holding Traubel's hand on 26 March 1892.

After Whitman's death, Traubel was one of the leading figures in what he saw as a crusade to defend the reputation of the poet and to promote his cause. He took a great interest in any books or articles written on Whitman, and was deeply concerned about the way in which Whitman was represented in print. He was in contact with Whitmanites around the world, and was involved in establishing an international organisation for like-minded groups and individuals. Traubel was also one of Whitman's three literary executors, along with Richard Maurice Bucke and Thomas B. Harned (Traubel's brother-in-law). In this capacity, he embarked on the huge task of sorting and editing Whitman's vast collection of papers, which he moved to his own home. His magnum opus , the painstakingly detailed diary of his visits to Whitman from March 1888 to his death -With Walt Whitman in Camden - runs to nine volumes, only three of which were published during Traubel's lifetime.


The bulk of these letters were formerly arranged in a single chronological sequence which did not distinguish between recipients; this arrangement was apparently made by Library staff in the past. Here, the material has been grouped into series according to recipient, reflecting the way in which the letters would originally have been received. There is an additional series of letters sent by Traubel to unnamed recipients, which have proved impossible to attribute from internal evidence, and these have been placed in a separate series. They were, however, almost definitely addressed to Wallace or Johnston.

The series are as follows:

  • Eng 1172/1 Letters to J.W. Wallace from Horace Traubel
  • Eng 1172/2 Letters to J.W. Wallace from Anne Montgomerie Traubel
  • Eng 1172/3 Letters to Dr John Johnston from Horace Traubel
  • Eng 1172/4 Letters to Charles F. Sixsmith from Horace Traubel
  • Eng 1172/5 Letters from Horace Traubel to unnamed recipients

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The Traubel correspondence was collected by Charles Sixsmith, who bequeathed it, along with his book collection and other manuscript material, to the John Rylands University Library in his will; the material arrived at the Library in 1954.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds four other manuscript collections bequeathed by Charles Sixsmith: Eng Ms 1170 consists of papers relating to the Bolton circle and Whitman in general, including a bundle of autograph letters sent to Whitman by various individuals during 1880; Eng Ms 1171 contains papers and photographs relating to Sixsmith's friend, the writer and socialist, Edward Carpenter; Eng Ms 1330 is a collection of miscellaneous papers relating to Sixsmith's work in the cotton business and some of his interests, including a small amount of material reflecting his involvement in the Bolton Whitman Fellowship; and Eng Ms 1331 contains news cuttings, other printed matter and photographs, principally relating to Whitman and Carpenter.

In addition, there is a collection of papers relating to J.W. Wallace and the Bolton Whitman Fellowship, donated by Wallace's adopted daughter, Minnie Whiteside ( Eng Ms 1186).

A much larger collection of Bolton Whitman Fellowship material is held at Bolton Archive Service, based in the Central Library, Bolton, Lancashire ZWN . This includes: some original letters from Walt Whitman to Wallace, Johnston and others, copies of these, and copies of their letters to him; large quantities of other correspondence, between members of the Bolton circle and with Whitman enthusiasts overseas; numerous papers relating to the Bolton group and its activities; photographs; mementos and ephemera. The Bolton collection contains extensive Horace Traubel correspondence, including letters to Wallace and Johnston dating from the period covered by this collection.


Blodgett, Harold, Walt Whitman in England (New York: Cornell University Press. London: Humphrey Milford, 1934).

Grant, Douglas, Walt Whitman and his English admirers: an inaugural lecture (Leeds: Leeds University Press, 1962).

Johnston, J. and Wallace, J.W., Visits to Walt Whitman in 1890-1891 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917).

Kaplan, Justin, Walt Whitman: a life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980).

Karsner, David, Horace Traubel: his life and work (New York: Egmont Arens, 1919).

Krieg, Joann P., 'Without Walt Whitman in Camden', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 85-112.

Miller, Edwin Haviland (ed.), The collected writings of Walt Whitman: the correspondence vol. IV, 1886-1889, and vol. V, 1890-1892 (New York: New York University Press, 1969).

Myerson, Joel, Walt Whitman: a descriptive bibliography (Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993).

Salveson, Paul, 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Traubel, Horace (ed.), At the graveside of Walt Whitman: Harleigh, Camden, New Jersey, March 30th, and sprigs of lilac (Philadelphia: Billstein and Son, 1892).

Traubel, Bucke and Harned (eds.) In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893).

The Sixsmith collections held at the John Rylands Library were used as source material for Paul Salveson's 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review , 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.