Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt, 19 March 1874

Date: March 19, 1874

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:286–288. 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.00003

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, Zachary King, and Eric Conrad

431 Stevens st. Camden, N. Jersey,
U. S. America
March 19, 1874.

My dear Rudolf Schmidt1,

My lonesomeness & sickness here, (for I am still sick, & here,) have been much rejoiced to–day by my getting your good & copious letter of 28th February, on your return to Kopenhagen. I rec'd with it the Fatherland with Mr. Rosenberg's2 criticism3—which (perhaps luckily for me) I cannot now read—but will one of these days have translated & read to me. I keep it very carefully—as I do all you send me—& shall yet read and commune with, & dwell upon & absorb all thoroughly & at leisure—(especially your own review in the Ide.) I think probably all—certainly most—papers, sheets, &c. you have sent me to Washington, have reached me here—the post office forwards them here—I rec'd two complete copies Demokratiske Fremblik4, & one copy in sheets—also three copies picture paper Folkeblad, with my portrait,5 which is most excellent—(and the notice I will have read to me)—I rec'd at the time, a year ago, the translation of Swedish and Norwegian poems, you sent me, acknowledged it, but the letter seems to have missed you, & have read it & had much pleasure, & am to read it more—I also rec'd from Clausen your picture, which I have with me—& prize. A friend lately looking at it said, "Why, he looks like a born Yankee—& of the best."

I wrote you March 4th, acknowledging Demokratiske Fremblik, & sent you (one in Harper's Magazine, & one extracted in the N. Y. Tribune) my two latest pieces Song of the Redwood Tree, (California,) and Prayer of Columbus, which I suppose you have rec'd all—For the last ten weeks I have not felt inclined to write—have suffered in the head—walk hardly any, (from the paralysis,) but maintain good spirits, keep up in body & face, (my brother & sister said at dinner yesterday that portrait in the Folkeblad looks greatly like me now, & has caught the true expression better than any of them.) In body I have always been, & still remain, stout, in the American sense, (i.e. not corpulent)—

In my letter of March 4 I wrote a few lines about Clemens Petersen6—my only interview with him was about 40 minutes, one very rainy Sunday, nearly two years since in New York—he was just recovering from an attack of erysipelas which had left large red blotches on his face—two other visitors were just leaving—C. P. received me very kindly & talked well—all was agreeable, but under the circumstances I could not say much nor stay long—received a pleasing but passing, & not very pronounced impression—which is the reason, my dear friend, that I have not written more fully—Partly too I have been waiting expecting that perhaps somehow C. P. and I would meet again, & talk more & get better acquainted, & I could write you further—but I have not seen any thing of him since—& only seen some of his pieces casually in the magazines. I have not heard him or them mentioned here in America—certainly no essay in the Atlantic magazine nor any thing of his elsewhere in English that I have seen has attracted any special attention nor deserves it—shows nothing of the forte or heartiness of which I have no doubt he is capable—(I think your letter & opinion of C. P.'s essay, of last summer, have missed me.)—I cannot understand your allusions to Bjornson7—as you will be doubtless aware yourself.

The same hardness, crudeness, worldliness—absence of the spiritual, the purely moral, esthetik, &c—are in Democracy here too—(though there are signs & awakenings here very plain to me)—probably in Great Britain, & in Europe & everywhere—Here, it is much counterbalanced & made up by an immense & general basis of the eligibility to manly & loving comradeship, very marked in American young men—but generally, I am the more disposed to be satisfied with the case as it is because I see that the only foundations & sine qua non of popular improvement & Democracy are worldly & material success established first, spreading & intertwining everywhere—then only, but then surely for the masses, will come spiritual cultivation & art—they will then firmly assert themselves—

Thank you for the graphic line–sketch you write of Bismark, in your letter. My own opinion is, that we can well afford—I will say, such as you & I, can well afford, to let those little & great chunks of brawn—Attilas, Napoleons, Bismarks—prepare the way, & cut the roads through, for us.8

Write me here, till further notice—let me hear what is said about Vistas or my poems—let me hear always of yourself fully.


1. Rudolf Schmidt, a Dane and editor of For Idé og Virkelighed, is credited with introducing Walt Whitman to Scandinavia by quoting translated passages from Leaves of Grass in a 1872 essay in his magazine. He 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" (The Library of Congress). [back]

2. Carl Rosenberg was a friend of Rudolf Schmidt. According to Schmidt's February 28, 1874, letter, an eight-column review of Walt Whitman's works appeared in the Fatherland (Fædrelandet): "The author of the criticism Rosenberg is a silly little fellow, who understands nothing between heaven and earth, and least of all, you" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). See Orbis Litterarum, VII (1949), 49n[back]

3. According to Schmidt's letter of February 28, 1874, an eight-column review of Walt Whitman's works appeared in the Fatherland (Fædrelandet): "The author of the criticism Rosenberg is a silly little fellow, who understands nothing between heaven and earth, and least of all, you." Roos identifies Carl Rosenberg as a friend of Schmidt; see Orbis Litterarum, 7 (1949), 49n. [back]

4. Rudolph Schmidt translated Whitman's Democratic Vistas into Danish in 1871. [back]

5. Walt Whitman's portrait, with an extract from Schmidt's essay, appeared in the Illustreted Folkeblad on February 22, 1874, according to Roos. [back]

6. Whitman mentioned meeting Petersen in his April 4, 1872 letter to Schmidt. Schmidt pressed Walt Whitman for his opinion of Petersen, as in his letter of February 28, 1874: "I have asked you at least two times how you did like Clemens Petersen; you have not replied and most probably you wont speak of this matter. If that is the case, I shall repeat the question no more." [back]

7. Schmidt wrote at some length on February 28, 1874 of Björnson: "His poetry comes from the source, that is throbbing in the people's own heart. He has been the spoiled darling of the whole Danish public. But he is a living test of the hideous and venomous serpent, that hides his ugly head among the flowers of the pantheistic poetry. You have in your 'vistas' spoken proud words of the flame of conscience, the moral force as the greatest lack of the present democracy. You have, without knowing it, named the lack of Björnson at the same time! Björnson owes Denmark gratitude. He has shown it in the form of deep and bloody offences, that make every honest Danish heart burn with rage and indignation." [back]

8. On February 28, 1874, Schmidt reported that he had seen Bismarck in Berlin: "It is worth the travel to get a glance on this so very powerfull and so excessively beastly face. Attila called himself 'God's scourge,' Napoleon did not call himself so, but he was it. But Attila was imposing in the splendour of his barbaric greatness; of Napoleon the German H: Heine has said 'every inch a God.' A scourge like this Brandenburgider fox hunter mankind never has known. Perhaps mankind never has been so deeply fallen!" [back]


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