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.