Title: William Harrison Riley to Walt Whitman, 2 April 1879
Date: April 2, 1879
Editorial note: The annotation, "Ruskin," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.03353
Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Vince Moran, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, and Stefan Schöberlein
St. George's Farm, Totley, near Sheffield,1
My dear Friend and Guide.
The book and photographs (for Ruskin)2 have arrived safely, and as soon as I hear from Ruskin of their receival by him I will let you know. At present he is away from home, and I have written to him to ask where he will have them addressed to.
When I sent him the 'extracts', I did not imagine it possible that he had never heard of you, and even now I feel sure he must have heard of you, but have taken little notice of the hearing, as so much that he hears is so unworthy of rememrance. But when he read the extracts, he seemed to be astonished, for I have never before heard of him using such a term as 'glorious' respecting any writings.
A little over a year ago, he had a brain fever, and I think that has caused him to forget many things he previously remembered. But if he had read your writings, I feel sure he would not have forgotten you altogether.
Ruskin is a great, good man. He is not only a beautiful writer, but a beautiful worker, and he will always do what he thinks he should do, even at the hazard of 'death' or disrepute. But I will write more of him in another letter.
What I have in me to say to you on my own account cannot be uttered in any words. Through poverty and calumny you have been a constant encourager and faithful and beloved supporter. You have indeed led me into strifes but you have rendered infinite help, and, though I may have 'grinned,' I have steadfastly borne the temporary pain and have continued faithful.
You translated hitherto hidden languages for me; you opened my eyes, which had before been only partly open. You set me to work.
The Companions were hard to find, in the body, but until they appeared I had consolatation with the old companions and those yet to come—for I am a dreamer also.
Now I have found a few companions—all 'poor'—but your faithful lovers. Of these I hope to write to you in a future letter.
It would be for me the greatest pleasure to be
1. William Harrison Riley (1835–1907) was a British socialist who addressed Whitman as "My dear Friend and Master" in a letter on March 5. Twelve years earlier he had found a copy of Leaves of Grass "and saw a Revelation.... In all my troubles and successes I have been strengthened by your divine teachings" (The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1964], 3:148 n17). [back]
2. John Ruskin (1819–1900) was one of the leading art critics in Victorian Great Britain. Whitman sent Leaves of Grass and a "couple of photographs" to Ruskin via William Harrison Riley in March 1879 (see the letter from Whitman to Riley of March 18, 1879). Ruskin, according to Whitman, expressed "worry [...] that [Leaves is] too personal, too emotional, launched from the fires of [...] spinal passions, joys, yearnings" (see the letter from Whitman to William O'Connor of October 7, 1882). Whitman, late in life, said to Horace Traubel: "[I] take my Ruskin with some qualifications." Still, Ruskin "is not to be made little of: is of unquestionable genius and nobility" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Thursday, January 24, 1889). [back]