Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt, 16 January 1872

Date: January 16, 1872

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:150–153. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Royal Library of Copenhagen

Whitman Archive ID: rlc.00001

Contributors to digital file: Kenneth M. Price, Elizabeth Lorang, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad




Washington, D. C. United States.
January 16, 1872.

Dear sir:1

Supposing that the books & papers I sent you in response to your letter have safely arrived, I thought I would now write you a few lines. What I have to submit & say, I will just say without ceremony—confident you will receive it in the same spirit in which it is written.

I sent you (by Mr. Clausen2) my poems "Leaves of Grass"—and little prose work "Democratic Vistas"—also a piece I recited at opening of an Exhibition of Industry in New York;3 adding several criticisms, sketches, &c. about the books & about myself, written by different persons from different points of view. These will furnish you with sufficient material for your examination, digest, &c.

The main object of my poetry is simply to present—sometimes by directions, but oftener by indirections—the Portraiture or model of a sound, large, complete, physiological, emotional, moral, intellectual & spiritual Man, a good son, brother, husband, father, friend & practical citizen—& Woman also, a good wife, mother, practical citizen too—adjusted to the modern, to the New World, to Democracy, & to science. My verse strains its every nerve to arouse, brace, dilate, excite to the love & realization of health, friendship, perfection, freedom, amplitude. There are other objects, but these are the main ones.

The central purpose of "Democratic Vistas" is to project & outline a fresh & brawny race of original American Imaginative authors, with moral purpose, Hegelianism, underlying their works, poems—and with Science & Democracy—also thoroughly religious—(not ecclesiastical or sectarian merely.)

And now an item for your proposed review:

When you are composing your review, I would like to have you bring in, in a proper place, the following mentioned facts4—that neither my poetic "Leaves" or "Democratic Vistas" is cordially accepted in the United States—nor do the chief literary persons or organs of the country admit the poems as having any merit, or recognize the author as a poet at all—that he has once indeed been ignominiously ejected from a moderate government employment at Washington by special order of a Cabinet officer there, for the sole & avowed reason that he was the writer of the book; that up to this time no American publisher will publish it (the author printing the various editions himself)5—that many of the booksellers refuse to keep it for sale—that the swarms of versifiers and writers of book notices in America are quite generally banded against this new man (myself) and that his position, in his own country, both as to literary recognition & worldly prosperity, has been, and remains to-day, under a heavy & depressing cloud.

Of course you will at the same time hardly need to be told that I take all this very coolly—that my book is written in the sun & with a gay heart—for these surely, fully belong to me. But I think a good foreign review of my works would be more complete by giving those facts—would be hardly complete without them—for they are the substantial facts, notwithstanding a few exceptions.

Meanwhile, abroad, my book & myself have had a welcome quite dazzling. Tennyson writes me friendly letters, inviting me to become his guest.6 Freilegrath translates & commends my poems. Robert Buchanan,7 Swinburne, and all the great English & Dublin colleges, affectionately receive me & doughtily champion me. And while I, the author, am without any recompense at all in America, the English pirate-publisher, Hotten,8 derives a handsome annual income from a bad & defective London reprint of my Poems.

I wish you to speak of the purpose of "Democratic Vistas." (It is at present in danger of falling still-born here.)

I should be glad to hear more from you, your magazine—Denmark too. For all, accept my friendliest good wishes.

Direct
Walt Whitman
Washington, D. C.
Solicitor's Office Treasury,
United States America

Later—Upon reading over my letter within, previous to mailing it, I had almost decided not to send it—as a part of it may be open to the imputation of a complaining spirit, & querulousness—Yet as nothing can be further from my real state of mind, (which is more than satisfied, & delightedly grateful for my literary fortunes & reception by the world,) I will let it go.


Notes:

1. Rudolf Schmidt, editor of For Idé og Virkelighed, wrote to Walt Whitman on October 19, 1871, "I intend to write an article about yourself and your writings in the above named periodical which is very much read in all the Scandinavian countries. …I therefore take the liberty to ask you, if you should not be willing to afford some new communications of yourself and your poetry to this purpose" (Library of Congress).

In this letter Whitman was furnishing information Schmidt sought for his article; see Whitman's December 7, 1871 letter to Schmidt. This and Whitman's January 18, 1872 letter to Edward Dowden contain almost identical statements of Whitman's conception of his works. [back]

2. Carl F. Clausen, termed in Schmidt's letter "my old friend and countryman," corresponded with Schmidt after he left Denmark in 1860; see Carl Roos, "Walt Whitman's Letters to a Danish Friend," Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 34–39. The city directory in 1870 listed him as a draughtsman and in 1872 as a patent agent. He died of consumption in the middle 1870s; see the Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #108. [back]

3. Whitman refers here to his poem, "After All, Not to Create Only." For first periodical printings of this poem, see the 7 September 1871 issues of the New York Evening Post and the New York Commercial Advertiser[back]

4. Once again Whitman restated what was by this time a somewhat shop-worn charge—a poet systematically persecuted by governmental authority and by American newspapers and journals. In his desire to appear in the role of a martyr, he consistently neglected mention of the coverage he received in the press. Even Horace Traubel, in 1889, dissented from Whitman's opinion; see With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906–1996), 4:61–62. In addition, sales were better than he admitted; Whitman wrote of strong sales in his January 26, 1872 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman. [back]

5. Again Whitman omitted reference to the 1860 edition published by Thayer and Eldridge. [back]

6. Tennyson made such an offer in his July 12, 1871 letter to Whitman. [back]

7. Robert Buchanan (1841–1901), English poet and critic, had lauded Whitman in the Broadway Annual in 1867, and in 1872 praised Whitman but attributed his poor reception in England to the sponsorship of William Michael Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (1934), 79–80, and Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 445–446. Swinburne's recantation later in the year may be partly attributable to Buchanan's injudicious remarks. [back]

8. For Whitman's relationship with John Camden Hotten and the "bad & defective" edition, see Whitman's November 1, 1867 letter to Moncure D. Conway.

Mark Twain, incensed by the pirated edition of The Innocents Abroad, damned "John Camden Hottentot"; see Delancey Ferguson, Mark Twain: Man and Legend (1943), 163. [back]


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