Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Richard Watson Gilder to Walt Whitman, 1 October 1879

Date: October 1, 1879

Whitman Archive ID: hsp.00007

Source: Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 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.

Notes for this letter were created by Whitman Archive staff and/or were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented or updated by Whitman Archive staff.

Editorial note: The annotation, "Gratz—7—5," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alicia Bones, Vince Moran, Eder Jaramillo, Nicole Gray, Stefan Schöberlein, Elizabeth Lorang, and Amanda J. Axley

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Shanklin, Isle of Wight.
Oct 1: 1879

My dear Mr. Whitman

Last Spring I happened upon a nest of poets at Avignon—Provençal poets—successors of the old troubadours—among them [Mssr?] Charles Bonaparte Wyse,1 a descendant of Lucien Bonaparte2 & the son of an Irishman. He went to the South of France, from Ireland, some 25 years ago & was so charmed with the poets there that he learned the Provençal language & became one of them. He spends a part of every year there. He is a gentleman, a scholar, & a poet; also a good judge of poetry. Well, he is one of your warmest friends & appreciators—and has sent by me all sorts of messages to you. As I am not to return till the Spring I send them by mail. Last April we dined with him at the inn of "La Chevelure d'Or," at the ancient, ruined & almost deserted city of Les Baux, In the top of a mountain near Arles. This inn, by the way, was named by Mr. Wyse after a magnificent head of golden hair found in an old tomb at Les Baux, which he has made the subject of a Provençal poem, & which was in the possesion of the landlord. At this dinner Mr. Wyse proposed, & we all drank, standing, the health of Walt Whitman.

I have just received a letter from my friend in which he says:

"I enclose you my promised Provençal translation of two of the sweetest bits of Manahatta's poetry. I have not attempted his poetic prose, which is not to be imitated, but have had the audacity to compress, Procrustes-wise,3 his touching lines into the stocks of my verse. Do, I beg of you, do me the great favor to present them to him, in my name, when next you see him. Insignificant as is the attention, it is at any rate a straw which will show which way the wind blows. If ever I go to America, I assure you that one of my first visits will be to this most sympathetic of poets, for whose large & lofty nature my admiration is merged into love."

No one has written to me about the lecture.4 How did it succeed?

Yours very truly
Richard W. Gilder.
Munroe & Co.
7 Rue Scribe Paris

—Mrs. Gilder5 sends her regards.

Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse (1826–1892) was an Irish poet living in France. He had translated Whitman's "I Heard You Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ" and "Reconciliation" into Provençal, a minority dialect of southern France. His parents were Sir Thomas Wyse, an Irish politician, and Marie Bonaparte, a French author. Bonaparte-Wyse was a great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was married to Ellen Linzee Prout (1842–1925). For more on Wyse and his Whitman translations, see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1896), 215–220. For his parents, see: "Wyse, Sir Thomas" A Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1878), 574. [back]

2. Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840) was the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). His political views were quite revolutionary, and at times, he clashed with his brother. [back]

3. Procrustes, in Greek mythology, was the son of Poseidon, and was known for torturing people by mutilating their legs or stretching their bodies to fit a specific, arbitrary form. [back]

4. On February 3, 1878, John Burroughs informed Whitman that Richard Watson Gilder wanted to organize a "benefit" in New York at which the poet was to lecture on Lincoln (see also the letter from Whitman to Burroughs of March 11, 1878). Burroughs suggested that Stedman and Swinton should be invited to support the project. Whitman wrote on the envelope of Burroughs's letter: "(first suggestion of lecture)." [back]

5. Helena de Kay Gilder (1846–1916), the wife of poet and editor Richard Watson Gilder, was a painter as well as the founder of the Society of American Artists and the Art Student's League. She worked closely with her husband, designing the text illustrations for all of his books of poetry. [back]


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