Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: John Addington Symonds to Walt Whitman, 23 January 1877

Date: January 23, 1877

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.04208

Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Eder Jaramillo, Grace Thomas, Kevin McMullen, Nicole Gray, and Kenneth Price



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Clifton Hill House,
Clifton, Bristol.
Jan: 23 18771

My dear Sir,

I hardly know through what a malign series of crooked events—absence chiefly on my part in Italy & Switzerland, pressure of studious work, & miscarriage of letters—I should have failed to make earlier application to you for your new books.2 I do so now, however, begging you to send me copies of Leaves of Grass & Two Rivulets, & enclosing a Cheque on my bankers for £5. I see by Mr. Rossetti's3 Circular that the price of each volume is £1. If you will send me 2 copies of each, the other £1 will serve for postage. I shall then have copies for myself & copies to give to a friend.

May I ask that in one of the volumes at any rate your loved & revered autograph may be found?

Some time since, my friend Roden Noel4 gave me by token of comradeship one of two photographs signed with your own name, wch you gave him. This is now framed & hangs in my bedroom. I see it daily—opposite the similar signed photograph of Alfred Tennyson, from whom as a boy I learned much. To me as a man your poems—yourself in your poems—has been a constant teacher & loved companion.

I do not know whether you are likely to have heard that I make literature my daily work. I wait the time when I shall be able here in England to raise my voice with more authority than I yet have in bidding men to know you: for I feel that you have for us here in the old country a message no less valuable to us than to your own people.

I seem to know you as a friend & father; & those who love me best, make me gifts recalling you—like Roden Noel's I have mentioned, & like that of a lady who some time since sent me a copy of Leaves of Grass Boston5 1855.

More than this I need not now write: unless it be to ask you whether, by way of remembrance, you would care to receive any works printed by me—echoes of my studies in the history of Greece & Italy for the most part?6

I am with all love & reverence yours
John Addington Symonds.

To Walt Whitman


Notes:

1. This letter is endorsed, in Whitman's hand: from J Addington Symonds | Jan 23 '77 | books sent April & May, '77. [back]

2. John Addington Symonds, a prominent biographer, literary critic, and poet in Victorian England, was in his time most famous as the author of the seven-volume history Renaissance in Italy. But in the smaller circles of the emerging upper-class English homosexual community, he was also well known as a writer of homoerotic poetry and a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, or sexual inversion as it was then known (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings [New York: Garland Publishing, 1998], 701). [back]

3. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868 Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to F.S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Roden Noel (1834–1894) was an English poet. Noel came from an aristocratic English family, and in his youth developed socialist sympathies. He was a close friend of the poet and influential critic Robert Buchanan, and it may have been through Buchanan that Noel first encountered Leaves of Grass. In 1871 (the same year that he first wrote to Whitman). Noel published an essay entitled "A Study of Walt Whitman" in The Dark Blue (Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1934], 147–149). [back]

5. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was published not in Boston but in Brooklyn (1855). Whitman notes this error in his discussion of Symonds's letter with Horace Traubel (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [Boston: Small, Maynard, 1906], 1: 459-460). [back]

6. Symonds is likely referring to his Studies of the Greek Poets (London: Smith, Elder, 1876, 2 vols.) and Renaissance in Italy (London: Smith, Elder, 1886, 7 vols.) [back]


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