Title: Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, 27 September 1883
Date: September 27, 1883
Editorial note: The annotation, "'83," 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.
Notes for this letter were derived from Whitman and Rolleston: A Correspondence, ed. Horst Frenz (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1951). The material appears here courtesy of Indiana University Press.
Location: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.05148
Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schöberlein, Kirsten Clawson, Nima Najafi Kianfar, and Nicole Gray
28 Terrassen Ufer. Dresden
My dear Master
I got your post card last Tuesday morning.1 I had not written for some time because I waited till I had something to say about the essay on the L. of G. I was preparing for delivery here. They had promised me an earlier date for it, but could not, in the end, find one till the 25th Sept. last, the day I got your card on. It (i.e. the lecture) was delivered before the Dresden Literary Society, consisting mostly of Professors & savants of all kinds.2 No one knew anything, or anything beyond the name, of you, except Dr. Doehn, the author of a history of American Literature I told you of.3 He spoke on my essay, and took the usual line of intelligent and book-learned persons, thus—"He is a poet by God's grace—but that is all" (and it isn't much, according to Dr. D.) "He is wanting in two indispensable requisites for a great writer. (1) Knowledge—(2) Form." As to the absence of knowledge, I can only conjecture that he meant that your poems would not be regarded as historical studies, like Schillers 'Tell' &c. Two others spoke—one a Dr. Hohlfeld, a man of much genuine thoughtfulness. He merely pointed out some philosophical parallels between things I had said, and passages of Schiller & Schleiermacher. A third speaker said a few words which showed that he understood my drift—among other things he said what I had reported about you reminded him of Wordsworth. Now this was really remarkable, for I had always held that Wordsworth was the true predecessor of the L. of G. & on asking Edward Dowden once about this, he fully confirmed what I had thought. ("Wordsworth is calculated to lead a courageous, though not a timid, person up to W.W.")4 Yet in writing my essay, I had no thought of him, nor had mentioned him.—Now it so happens that another English friend here has, about a year ago, delivered a lecture before the same Literary Soc. on Wordsworth. And we mean now to publish both lectures together with a short preface showing in what direction the connection between you & Wordsworth is to be looked for. I will send you some copies as soon as this appears, which will be without delay. As to my translation of the L. of G. I am now ready to cooperate with any competent German, i.e. I have got a good way in the actual rendering, & see how it is to be done, &c. & all I want is a colleague to push on the work energetically with. But nothing of the kind has as yet turned up (although intelligent & more or less sympathetic readers in sufficient number.) Now do you know anyone whom you could put in connection with me? It does not strike me as needful that he should live in this town. We could easily arrange some system of work, through the post, & meet if necessary some time? Perhaps my essay when published may lead to something. I got Dr. Bucke's book.5 He was kind enough to send me a copy (I hope my letter of acknowledgment did not fail to reach him). I think it will be of the greatest service for all time (giving permanent expression to facts of great interest & importance, but the theoretic part of it not going deep enough.) I will send him my essay when it appears.
Nothing more to say now. Very glad to hear that you keep well.
T. W. Rolleston
1. 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). [back]
2. Rolleston read a lecture on Whitman before the Literarischer Verein of Dresden on September 25, 1883. The lecture was published in Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman; Zwei Vorträge von H. B. Cotterill und T. W. Rolleston (Dresden, 1883). Rolleston gave a humorous account of the Dresden society in "The Literarischer Verein of Augustusstadt," The Dublin University Review, 1 (April 1885), 50–52. The article, which is signed "T.W.R.," contains some interesting reflections on German poetry and criticism. Rolleston also commented on the lectures on Wordsworth and Whitman which he and Cotterill had given before the society and claimed that "Walt Whitman got, on the whole, a rather more encouraging reception, perhaps because he was treated from a more exlusively philosophical point of view." After the joint publication, in pamphlet form, of Ueber Wordsworth und Walt Whitman, a good part of it was translated into English by Horace Traubel and appeared in the Camden Post on Feburary 13, 1884. [back]
4. In one of Edward Dowden's letters to John Burroughs, he wrote: "...and also knowing Whitman enables one to discover the place of Wordsworth" (Letters of Edward Dowden and His Correspondents [London, 1914], 64). See also Harold Blodgett, "Whitman and Dowden," American Literature, 1 (1922), 171–182. [back]
5. Richard Maurice Bucke's Walt Whitman was published in Philadelphia in 1883. [back]