C.F. Sixsmith Walt Whitman Collection

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng Ms 1170
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      90 items.
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

This collection includes a series of letters sent to Whitman, most of them dating from the summer of 1880 when he was staying at the home of his friend and biographer, Dr R.M. Bucke in London, Ontario, as well as a bundle of papers and cuttings collected by the poet during the same period. Amongst these papers is an original portrait photograph of Whitman's close friend, Peter Doyle, taken in 1868 (Eng 1170/1/4/1). This material was purchased by Sixsmith at Sotheby's auction house in London (England) in 1935; it formed part of a collection of books and manuscripts formerly belonging to Bucke. The letters were sent to Whitman by scholars, critics, admirers, friends and family, including various well-known figures such as Bucke himself, John Burroughs, Anne Gilchrist and Edward Carpenter. In addition to the material originally belonging to Whitman himself, there is a series of letters to Sixsmith from fellow Whitman enthusiasts in America and England, dating from the early 1890s through to the mid-twentieth century, when the collecting of Whitmaniana was reaching its height. There are also some photographs, cuttings, and miscellaneous papers amassed by Sixsmith in relation to his Whitman interest and activities.

The collection contains valuable biographical information on Whitman himself, and forms a useful resource for the study of Whitman's influence, the reception of his poetry and ideas in America and Britain both during and after his lifetime, transatlantic links between Whitman admirers, and the relationships between specific individuals who were part of the international Whitman circle.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Frederick Sixsmith was one of six brothers from Anderton, near Chorley in Lancashire. He worked at Bentinck Mills, Farnworth, where he held the post of managing director for 40 years until his retirement in 1933. He was active in local government and played a part in the early socialist movement in Britain. He had two sons and a daughter, and died in February 1954 at the age of 83.

Literature was one of Sixsmith's many interests, and in the early 1890s he developed a love of Walt Whitman's poetry which was to last for the rest of his life. 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. Inspired by the message he found there, he underwent what he later described as a form of spiritual transformation, attaining 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 and Fred Wild, began to hold regular meetings at his home in Eagle Street, Bolton, to read and discuss literary works, particularly the poetry of Whitman. Other members of the group (which subsequently 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, and various 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 apart around 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.

Walt Whitman (1819-91) was born on Long Island and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He had little formal education and moved through various temporary occupations, including journalism, before publishing the first edition of his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. Written in a simple style and dispensing with traditional poetic devices, these poems represent an early form of free verse. Whitman spent the rest of his life revising and expanding this volume, producing nine editions in total. The third edition of 1860 contained the 'Calamus' group of poems, which has often been taken as evidence of his homosexuality, although the poet denied this and instead emphasised its meaning as a celebration of the natural affection of man for man or 'comradely love'. His work as a whole celebrated America, democracy, and the lives of the ordinary working people. Despite his own efforts at publicity, however, Whitman's work was largely ignored by the general public in America until the 1870s, when favourable reviews of his poetry appeared in England written by respected men of letters such as William Rossetti and John Addington Symonds. Whitman died at his home in Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, in 1892.


The material has been arranged into subgroups which reflect the provenance of the two separate parts of the collection. There is one item which did not form part of Sixsmith's original collection: this is a photograph sent to the Library by Harriet Sprague (Eng 1170/2/3/3). On the reverse of this print, a member of Library staff noted that it was kept with the Sixsmith collection for convenience (as a single item with no other obvious home). Sprague was a correspondent of Sixsmith, and the photograph is Whitman-related; it therefore remains part of this collection, although its provenance should be noted.

The collection is arranged as follows:

  • Eng 1170/1 Whitman papers purchased by C.F. Sixsmith
  • Eng 1170/1/2 Letters to Walt Whitman
  • Eng 1170/1/2 News cuttings
  • Eng 1170/1/3 General printed material
  • Eng 1170/1/4 Miscellaneous material
  • Eng 1170/2 Papers of C.F. Sixsmith relating to his Whitman rest
  • Eng 1170/2/1 Letters to Sixsmith
  • Eng 1170/2/2 News cuttings and printed material
  • Eng 1170/2/3 Photographs and postcards
  • Eng 1170/2/4 Miscellaneous material relating to Sixsmith's Whitman interest

Access Information

Open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.


Sixsmith's Whitman collections were used as a source for Paul Salveson's 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is described in the Guide to English Manuscripts.

Archivist's Note

Acknowledgements are due to Andrea Carter Brown for identifying the annotations in Whitman's own hand which appear on a number of the documents in this collection, and also for suggesting that Whitman pre-addressed in his own hand at least two of the letters sent to him during summer 1880. Whitman's annotations are recorded in the catalogue below where they occur.

Custodial History

The letters and papers originally belonging to Whitman were formerly in the possession of Dr R.M. Bucke; Whitman presumably left the material at Bucke's home after his visit in 1880. It was subsequently purchased at auction by C.F. Sixsmith in 1935, and bequeathed, along with the material generated by Sixsmith himself, to the John Rylands Library in 1954.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds four other manuscript collections bequeathed by Charles Sixsmith: Eng Ms 1171 contains papers and photographs relating to Sixsmith's friend, the writer and socialist, Edward Carpenter; Eng Ms 1172 is Sixsmith's collection of letters from Horace Traubel to Sixsmith himself, J.W. Wallace and John Johnston; 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 relating to 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 companion and adopted daughter, Minnie Whiteside ( Eng Ms 1186).

A much larger collection of material relating to the Bolton Whitman Fellowship and their contacts in America is held at Bolton Archive Service, based at the Central Library, Bolton, Lancashire. This includes: some original letters from 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.

Various large collections of Whitman's own correspondence are held at universities and other institutions in the USA.


Sixsmith's Whitman collections were used as a source for Paul Salveson's 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Allen, Gay Wilson, Walt Whitman (New York: Grove Press. London: Evergreen Books, 1961).

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).

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

Krieg, Joann P., 'Without Walt Whitman in Camden', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Miller, Edwin Haviland (ed.), The collected writings of Walt Whitman: the correspondence vol. III, 1876-1885 (New York: New York University Press, 1964) and vol. IV, 1886-1889 (New York: New York University Press, 1969).

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

Sotheby and Co., Catalogue of important letters, manuscripts and books by or relating to Walt Whitman, the property of his intimate friend, biographer and literary executor the late Dr Richard Maurice Bucke of London, Ontario(London: 1935).