Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Rudolf Schmidt, 28 May 1872

Date: May 28, 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), 2:175–176. 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.00005

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




Washington
May 28, 1872

My dear Rudolf Schmidt,1

I have rec'd yours of April 25. Having an opportunity by Mr. Clausen, who is journeying home to Denmark, I send you some books—another copy of Leaves of Grass—and a copy for Björnsen—(though he may not read English, I have wished to send him something—& when he chances upon someone who reads English and Danish, I should be so glad to be communicated to him.)2

Your article in the Ide will soon be translated for me in full.3 It is pronounced magnificent by those who can read it. I shall have much to say about it in my next.

I send you two or three humorous American works. The subject of American humor is very difficult to treat fully & satisfactorily, even for a native. In the books I send, the great difficulty will be the slang, the American local idioms, & the mis-spelling—all of which will certainly prove chevaux-de-frise making it impossible for any foreigner to penetrate the fun of them—Still I have thought it worth while to send them as (much more than the comic & pictorial papers) idiomatic, native specimens, (as minerals or insects)—4

American humor is yet in its nebulous state—unformed—struggling to be born. Some traits already appear—it is very grim, loves exaggeration, & has a certain tartness & even fierceness—I will endeavor to gather something more for you on this business—& write you again—

I am going soon to a College about 500 miles from here to deliver a commencement poem5—it will be published, forming part of a little book—which I will send you—During June I shall be home with my mother in Brooklyn, N.Y.—then return again here—


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). [back]

2. Carl F. Clausen, whom Schmidt termed "my old friend and countryman," corresponded with Schmidt after he left Denmark in 1860; see 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 Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #108.

Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910), Norwegian poet, dramatist, and novelist, was co-editor of Schmidt's journal. In his letter of January 5, 1872, Schmidt observed: "Hans Christian Andersen would perhaps not make you very great joy, if you did know him personally. Björnson would be your man." Schmidt later altered his opinion of Björnson; see notes to Whitman's March 19, 1874 letter to Schmidt. [back]

3. Schmidt's review of Whitman appeared in For Idé og Virkelighed in March 1872. Whitman included excerpts from it in an appendix to As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free (1872), 7–8. It was reprinted in entirety in In Re Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), ed. Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, and Thomas B. Harned, 231–248. [back]

4. On April 25, 1872, Schmidt made a request: "Will you do me a service? I should like to write an article on 'American fancy' contrasting the grotesque humor that is scattered with no pretension in your newspapers with the humor of Luther and Shakespeare . . . . Could you not find for me about a dozen jokes of this sort." It is not known what books Whitman sent to Schmidt. See also Whitman's letter to Schmidt of June 4, 1872[back]

5. Whitman recited "As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free" (later "Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood") at Dartmouth College on June 26, 1872. Evidently, a student organization hoped to annoy the faculty by inviting Whitman to Dartmouth, a seat of New England sobriety and conservatism; see Bliss Perry, Walt Whitman (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1906), 203–205. The poem appeared in the 26 June 1872 edition of the New York Herald.  [back]


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