Copy letters to Walt Whitman

Scope and Content

Rough drafts and fair copies of letters from Wallace and Dr John Johnston to Walt Whitman. The two Bolton friends built up a voluminous correspondence with the poet and the letters preserved here cover the period from their initial greeting to Whitman, on the occasion of his 68th birthday in 1887, to June 1891, shortly before Wallace visited Whitman in America. The letters are all in Wallace's hand, although those prior to 1890 are generally signed from both Wallace and Johnston. During 1890 they appear to have started writing to the poet separately. At first the letters are infrequent, consisting of annual birthday greetings to Whitman accompanying gifts of money. From 1890, however, the correspondence grows, as Wallace and Whitman begin to swap books and articles and discuss ideas.

Notable topics covered in the letters include: praise of Whitman's work and descriptions of his influence on Wallace, accompanied by effusive expressions of love and gratitude; the Whitman "Gospel" and Wallace's desire to spread his teaching (in 2/2/17 he ranks Whitman's work with the Hebrew scriptures); Whitman's lack of recognition by the literary classes as compared to the masses (2/2/13 & 29); growing appreciation of the poet; frequent comments on the state of Whitman's health, and Wallace's concern; books and articles sent between the correspondents; the Bolton group and their activities, including descriptions of various members, notably the Rev. F.R. Hutton (2/2/16), Fred Wild (2/2/27 & 29), and Wentworth Dixon (2/2/52); references to friends and admires of Whitman, such as John Burroughs, Dr R.M. Bucke and Horace Traubel; John Addington Symonds and their correspondence with him (2/2/9, 24 & 35); the deaths of Robert Browning (2/2/5) and of Whitman's friend and defender William Douglas O'Connor (2/2/11); Wallace's move to Anderton in 1890 (2/2/7); Johnston's visit to Whitman in the same year (2/2/8-11 & 17); Whitman's canary (celebrated in 'My Canary Bird', later stuffed and sent to the Bolton group (2/2/5 & 11)); various gifts sent by Whitman, including 2 portraits of himself (2/2/14) and autograph copies of poems (2/2/40 & 42); numerous orders placed for the pocket edition of Leaves of Grass available from Whitman; Wallace's feelings on the death of his mother (2/2/11); his views on Ruskin and Carlyle (2/2/28); Whitman's 'Good-Bye My Fancy' and the 2nd Annex to the final edition of Leaves of Grass (2/2/34, 37, 44 & 53).

2/2/10 is an unfinished draft; 2/2/44 is a rough note relating to a letter to Whitman of which no copy was kept; 2/2/54 consists of 2 fragmentary drafts.

Many of the drafts are in pencil.


The letters were found bundled together chronologically; all undated letters have therefore been left in place. Also included is one copy letter to Dr Johnston (2/2/2) and one to Dr [R.M.] Bucke (2/2/30); these too have been left in their place in the sequence.