Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Bazalgette, Léon (1873–1929)
Author:
Asselineau, Roger
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Léon Bazalgette belonged to a French-English family and divided his life between Paris and an old water mill in Normandy. The millpond was his Walden. A lover of nature and a sentimental socialist with anarchist leanings, Bazalgette admired both Henry David Thoreau and Whitman and wrote biographies of both. He was also in touch with Horace Traubel and contributed to the Conservator. In 1908 he published Walt Whitman: L'Homme et son oeuvre (several times reprinted), which gave an idealized image of the poet ad usum delphini, so to speak. In particular, he took up H.B. Binns's story of a romantic love affair in New Orleans. This biography was followed in 1909 by a complete translation of Leaves of Grass (several times reprinted), which is still the only complete French translation, but is faulty and rather awkward in places, more literal than literary. André Gide objected to the suppression of all signs of Whitman's homosexuality and undertook a translation of his own. Bazalgette was more interested in the content than in the form of Leaves of Grass, in Whitman's politics than in his artistry. He also wrote a book on Whitman's philosophy: Le Poème-Evangile de Walt Whitman (1921, but written in 1914) and later translated Specimen Days under the title of Pages de Journal (1926). His biography of Whitman was translated in 1920: Walt Whitman: The Man and His Work (reprinted in 1970) by Ellen Fitzgerald, who abridged it, especially as regards the New Orleans episode, and censored the more sensual passages.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The New Walt Whitman Handbook. 1975. New York: New York UP, 1986.

Erkkila, Betsy. Walt Whitman Among the French: Poet and Myth. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.

Masson, Elsie. "Walt Whitman, ouvrier et poète." Mercure de France 68 (Aug. 1907): 385–390.

Pucciani, Oreste F. The Literary Reputation of Walt Whitman in France. 1943. New York: Garland, 1987.

Special issue of Europe on Léon Bazalgette (78, June 1929) with contributions by Stefan Zweig, Panaït Istrati, Waldo Frank, John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, and others).


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