Title: Thomas W. H. Rolleston to Walt Whitman, [April or May 1880?]
Date: April or May 1880
Editorial note: The annotation, "paper from Canada," 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: Charles Sixsmith Collection at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
Whitman Archive ID: man.00018
Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Eder Jaramillo, Stefan Schöberlein, Nicole Gray, and Elizabeth Lorang
Lange Strasse 29, II. Dresden. Saxony.
I sent you yesterday, as greeting for your birthday, a small gift which I hope may reach you sometime about May 31st. The date below your photograph in the Two Rivulets had caught my eye that morning—and after some pondering I decided to make a selection from a set of etchings by Turner, which I had for labels from England, & accordingly I sent you three of them which I thought might interest you most. Two of English landscape, extremely characteristic, and one of Greenwich Hospital, with vast London, half lost in its smoke, in the background. The fame of our greatest English artist must surely have reached you, even if you have not already some specimens of his work. He has done nothing better than these etchings for the 'Liber Studiorum' I think, for though one misses his splendour of color, yet one sees the very soul of the man at work, as it were, in an impromptu way: there are a hundred things to be read in these delicate lines, which no doubt you will see more clearly than I do so I'll say no more about them. Only you must not [suppose?] the present to be a more valuable one than it really is. they are not plates of the original etchings (these are now unattainable except by millionaires) but absolutely faithful facsimiles lately published at a moderate cost by a London company, from original plates in the possession of Mr Stopford Brooke. Having seen the originals I can testify to the perfect accuracy of these copies. They are done I believe by some process like photography.
I have left Ireland and pitched my tent temporarily (that is for a few years) in Germany, a sojourn which I find pleasant enough, except for the consciousness of living under the régime of Bismarck. You can have no idea, no one can who has not lived in this country, how the weight of a government practically despotic, like this, presses like lead on the shoulders of each individual citizen, what shameful wrigglings it induces, to escape the load at one side or another. Police officers, dressed in plain clothes, are everywhere, no German will speak truly about politics even in his own house & on the most trivial questions, for success in public life is barred to a man who will not be a mere tool in the hands of Bismarck. The people [do not know?] their strength [and?] the Parliamen[t] [illegible] set of poltroons, full of petty spite one day and of abject terror the next, when the Zeus of the political Olympus thunders.
It is a curious evidence of the transforming power of American institutions and soil, that the one German I have met who seems to have the tone of manliness in his character is a returned American. His name is Plan. he went out pretty young, tried all the lives that men usually do who go out to seek their fortunes there—farming, trading, gold-digging, &c. Succeeded well enough in the moneymaking line, came home to be married, is now a country innkeeper not far from this, & says he is waiting for a good time to go back to the U.S. with his wife and children, as Germany is no place for a free man to live in. I could not describe to you how clearly his figure stands out among the rest of the Germans I know here, with what distinct individuality. We made friends at once. he took a fancy to me because I am Irish, and he had an Irish friend in California. (a good reason surely!) I think you would call him an ideal American, full of friendliness and good humour, and earnest loyalty to things and persons that attract him, full, too, of sound practical sense and resolution, with a curious leaven of recklessness and daring totally foreign to the German nature. He has too a real pleasure in literature, his favourite poem is Longfellow's Hiawatha
[illegible] several [illegible] of your [illegible] women, a great many come to Dresden. Of course generally from the "upper classes" & I must say, if I knew nothing of America except through them, I should form rather a curious opinion of you. Your 'ladies and gentlemen' appear to be much more cut off from the lower class, the People, than they are in England, where there is recognized inequality, but unbroken links of connection. Certainly not one of these people reminded me in the least of any traits in your 'Democratic Vistas' or 'Memoranda.' And another fact struck me—that while the upperclasses in England are generally really superior, in true and worthy qualities, rightful leaders and worthy of their trust, the corresponding class in America are frivolous nobodies, an excrescence, not part of the living flesh and bone of the nation. But of course my impression may be, probably is, utterly wrong: how could it be more than a random guess, after nothing more than a profound study of an American neighbour at a foreign table d'hôté or picture-gallery? I have for a couple of years cherished the intention of sometime seeing you, and something of America, but I have not yet been able to afford to leave Europe. Perhaps next year I may.
I suppose by this time you have received from Mrs Alexander the price of the book. I forwarded the results of your inquiries to her from the continent, but have heard nothing since
Turner's may'nt come till some days after this. Have franked them through.