Letters to J.W. Wallace from Horace Traubel

Scope and Content

J.W. Wallace (1853-1926), the leading light of the Bolton Whitman group, cultivated a wide network of contacts among socialists and other Whitman enthusiasts in Britain and America. He appears to have begun a correspondence with Traubel in 1891, before staying as a guest in the Traubel home on his visit to America during September-November of that year. This meeting confirmed the mutual affection felt by the two men, and afterwards their correspondence increased; by 1892 Traubel was sending almost daily letters, often reporting on Whitman's changing moods and the fluctuations in his health during his final illness.

The letters in this series were sent by Traubel to Wallace over an eighteen-month period during 1891-2. As well as documenting Whitman's last months, they provide an insight into Traubel's close relationship with Whitman (who he usually refers to as Walt) and the role he played as an assistant and trusted advisor to the poet. The correspondence also illustrates Traubel's relationship with Wallace, which was very close at this time before disagreements over Traubel's plans for an international Whitman organisation led to a distancing between the two men. The aftermath of Whitman's death and its impact on Traubel and other admirers is also illustrated in the letters: Traubel frequently expresses his feelings of loss, and refers to his huge responsibility as a literary executor. His concern about the portrayal of Whitman in books and articles and his own battle to spread the gospel of Whitman are frequently recurring themes. Already by June 1892 he had plans for establishing an international organisation of some kind to further Whitman's cause and forge connections with other groups of Whitmanites (see Eng 1172/1/42); and by autumn of the same year he was soliciting funds to purchase Whitman's last home in Mickle Street as a memorial to the poet.

Other topics covered include: Traubel's constant financial struggles; his marriage to Anne Montgomerie in May 1891 and his family life; his work on Whitman's papers; various other events and individuals associated with Whitman and his followers; and a small amount on American social affairs and politics.


There is a notable gap in the correspondence during January- April 1892 - the period immediately before and after Whitman's death on 26 March; letters from this period are held at Bolton Central Library.

Not all the letters listed in this series name Wallace as the recipient, but letters where his identity can be inferred from internal evidence have been included. Undated letters have been left in their original place in the chronological sequence.

Undated letters have been placed on the basis of internal evidence and their original position in the sequence.