Title: Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, [9 September 1884]
Date: September 9, 1884
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.
Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977).
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.03570
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, Ian Faith, Kyle Barton, and Nicole Gray
My dear Walt—
I got your second letter yesterday, forwarded here from Dresden.1 Don't be uneasy about the English text in the translation. I fully see the advantages of it. I have mentioned it in my preface. Only as I had had no opinion on the subject from anyone in the publishing line I didn't know what they might not have to advance so did not like to speak too decisively about it. I should not have given you to understand that a publisher's mere opinion would weigh with me, for it would not.
Now as to progress made—I have met with difficulties more serious than I expected. The work is ready, & could go to the printer any day. But the printer is not equally ready for the work. I offered it to four publishers before I left Germany, agreeing to pay all expenses myself, & all refused to take it up. I sent with my M.S. a copy of Freiligrath's article,2 & did all I could to secure a favourable hearing, but in vain. I am told there would probably be difficulties with the police, who in Germany exercise a most despotic power. Then other publishers I thought of trying are, I have been informed, rogues; and others again are dependent in various ways on court or official patronage—others would'nt touch it with it the end of a poker. So finally I came to a resolution a good deal confirmed by what you said of the probable circle of readers of the first edn—namely, to let the book appear in America, & thence make its way into German circulation. Once in print & fairly before the public it will of course weather every storm, but the thing is to get it fairly started. Had I been living in Germany longer I should have tried selling the book myself—but that I can't do from here. Now in America, where your position is assured, I suppose some German publisher would take it up readily enough. I am going then to ask you to take what steps can be taken toward finding a willing publisher with some German connection. No doubt Dr Karl Knortz3 would a useful person to apply to. (If you know him, & could get him to glance through my proof sheets I don't doubt that the work would be considerably improved.)
As to terms, of course if any enterprising publisher would give me 100 dollars or so for the book I would let him have it (it being understood that you & I should have our way about the form of the book, English version, &c). But I would be willing also to bear the expenses & keep the copyright, if the former were not out of the way large—I suppose it would cost a good deal more in America than in Germany, where everything is very cheap, & I have not much ready money to spare now. But I think I can rely on my father's helping me to the extent needed. If the book is printed in America you will be able to oversee technical matters connected with the printing to your own satisfaction.
So the upshot of this is that I will send you my M.S. as soon as it reaches me (it is coming in a box which was sent after me via Hamburg with other heavy luggage), & you can do as you think well with it. Let me say again that I should greatly like the proofsheets, before coming here, to pass through the hands of some German scholar who knows the L. of G. & should be grateful for any annotations he might wish to make.
I was grieved to hear of your increased illness. It is very hard to be persecuted by such things when you ought to have peace and freedom. But I know how you are 'armed with patience' Silence is a great comforter.
We are now back in our own country for good, & are greatly delighted to be so. The people are much more congenial to me than Germans, though these latter are more so than English. I was born in this house & know every field & nearly every tree since my childhood, it is wonderfully beautiful to me—a rich, undulating wooded land—deep grass & crops, blue mountains of Slieve Bloom on the horizon, & the stateliest trees, mostly ash & beech, I ever saw. I have a great love for ash trees—such sinewy strength, & a free, powerful method of branching, showing through the light foliage. What a country this is! or would be but for savage misgovernment, and Protestant bigotry. The Orangemen in the north are a source of much evil, & will be of more, unless some miracle should turn them into human sympathetic Irishmen. There was a time when I thought that Ireland could never be set free from English rule because the Catholic Church would instantly become dominant and inaugurate a system of religious tyranny which would crush liberties more important than national liberties. Now I begin to see that this would not be so for long. The Irish are much less Catholic than they were—dogmatic religion is loosening its hold upon them in a very remarkable way, & hatred for Protestant England as Irelands ruler is a most potent cause at present in supporting the Catholic religion here. This is felt even by the more cultivated & farseeing of the clergy, who consequently oppose the national movement as far as they dare. I have no doubt that in a free Ireland the Church would persecute as naturally as a wasp stings, but I am equally certain that a revulsion of feeling would come which (though attended perhaps with terrible struggles) would mark a real moral & intellectual advance such as seems out of our reach at present. The people about us here are very poor, reckless, friendly "full of reminiscences" both of good & evil. My father is greatly loved far & wide because when County Court Judge of Tipperary he protected the tenants as far as the laws allowed against the rapacity of the landlord class. He is a man you would like to see! He is over 70 now, more than average height even for our family, where the men grow very tall—(about 6 ft 4 inches)—& still sturdy. At present he is suffering form a strain got a few days ago while riding a restive horse. They tell me that a few days before I came there was a storm, and a fine sycamore he was fond of, near being blown down—they saw the roots heaving through the loosened earth—and my father sat down upon them until heavy weights could be brought to keep them down till the storm blew out, a device which was perfectly successful. He & my mother are greatly delighted with the two grandchildren we have brought them home. I'll send you a photograph of them soon, which has been done in Dresden just before we left.
I will leave the poems arranged in the order I find best but you of course may wish to alter my arrangement, in which case I shall have nothing to object.
—I couldn't make out what 'teff wheat' is—(Salut au Monde)—is there a German equivalent? I have written Teff-Weizen.4
Thomas William Hazen Rolleston (1857–1920) was an Irish poet and journalist. After attending college in Dublin, he moved to Germany for a period of time. He wrote to Whitman frequently, beginning in 1880, and later produced with Karl Knortz the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry into German. In 1889, the collection Grashalme: Gedichte [Leaves of Grass: Poems] was published by Verlags-Magazin in Zurich, Switzerland. See Walter Grünzweig, Constructing the German Walt Whitman (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995). For more information on Rolleston, see Walter Grünzweig, "Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (1857–1920)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).
2. Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876) was a German poet and translator and friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In his January 16, 1872 letter to Rudolf Schmidt, Whitman wrote that Freiligrath "translates & commends my poems." His review in the Augsburg Allgemeinen Zeitung on April 24, 1868 (reprinted in his Gesammelte Dichtungen [Stuttgart: G. J. Göschen, 1871], 4:86–89), was among the first notices of Whitman's poetry on the continent. A translation of the article appeared in the New Eclectic Magazine, 2 (July 1868), 325–329; see also Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Abroad (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1955), 3–7. A digital version is available in Walter Grünzweig's "Whitman in the German-Speaking Countries," which collects several examples of German reception of Whitman's poetry. Freiligrath had promised his readers "some translated specimens of the poet's productions," not a complete translation. William D. O'Connor and Whitman were applying pressure. A sympathetic article on Whitman in the New York Sontagsblatt of November 1, 1868, mentioned Freiligrath's admiration for the American poet. A translation of this article, which Whitman had a Washington friend prepare, is now in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection. [back]
3. Karl Knortz (1841–1918) was born in Prussia and came to the U.S. in 1863. He was the author of many books and articles on German-American affairs and was superintendent of German instruction in Evansville, Ind., from 1892 to 1905. See The American-German Review 13 (December 1946), 27–30. His first published criticism of Whitman appeared in the New York Staats-Zeitung Sonntagsblatt on December 17, 1882, and he worked with Thomas W. H. Rolleston on the first book-length translation of Whitman's poetry, published as Grashalme in 1889. For more information about Knortz, see Walter Grünzweig, "Knortz, Karl (1841–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
4. Rolleston retained this term in the final version of "Salut au Monde!" in Grashalme. [back]