Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Julius Bing to Walt Whitman, 21 January 1869

Date: January 21, 1869

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00099

Source: The Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1842–1937, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Ashley Lawson, Beverley Rilett, Nima Najafi Kianfar, John Schwaninger, Marie Ernster, Cristin Noonan, Amanda J. Axley, and Stephanie Blalock

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251 F [illegible] 30th
Thursday Evening Jan 21 '69

My dear Mr Whitman,

I thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending me the Atlantic with your glorious poem which has caught up the grandeur & harmony of the Cretian itself.1

I hope you will take the Crusades in hand in reference to Crete & the contest betwixt Christian & Musalman.

A grand subject worthy of your genius! a gathering of natives as shining & wild as that now tossing about in these States, all bent on driving the Turks & Saracens from Christian land. Popes, Kings, Emperors, he of France the sainted Louis IX2 & the English monarch Richard Coeur de Lion3, [Martinus?] [Aussens?] & [Principes?], the flower of the nobility, all armed to the teeth, armor-clad with no thought but hatred to the Turk & love for Christ & for Womanhood, which the Turk defiles. Immense Caravanserais [starting?] from all lands for several centuries, inspire by rapt men—Peter the Hermit,4 Walter the Pennyless,5 all classes joining, all races, all ages; children's crusades; eighty thousand children En route for Holy Land; rabble; loafers; religious & otherwise joins; thieves; prostitutes; all; high & low, virtuous & vicious, all humanity on horseback! But mark but then mere thousands of sailors; the ships of Venice, Genoa & Spain & behold the result! While their ships were crossexamining Mediterranean & Aegean sea to find the best harbour wherein to lay hand on Turk they became acquainted with navigation, with the art of navigation!

The spirit of maritime discovery was thus initiated by these crusading fleets, & when this spirit had culminated in the discovery of America, then Crusading spirit dies out & trading spirit, venturesome, engendering negro-traffic, was ushered into existence.

Hence the poet is right to conclude that the Enterprise which originated in Christian Enthusiasm, was killed by the spirit of maritime discovery to which it had given birth

If the Genoese & Spanish sailors had not been experimenting on the sea in the Crusading expeditions, the best of discovery would not have been developed; Columbus would not have been incited to his expedition & America would not have been discovered.

And then the poetry that was born by the Crusades. Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata6 & Goethe's drama, Torquato Tasso with his poetic love of Princess Eleonora.7 And the chivalry, the heroic, martial spirit; the martyr; the Christ spirit the millions of Christians slain in the attempt to wrest the sepulchre from Turk.

You see the connection. The discovery of America was the indirect result of the Crusading expeditions. But the spirit of Enterprise crushed that of religious enthusiasm & thus it was that the Turk was allowed to remain to oppress Crete & Greece & now America repays the debt which it owes to the poor Christians of the East whose dream was sealed because America had to be discovered & a maelstrom of material Enterprise to be let loose

How grandly you might weave all this together in words & mankind—stirring stanzas! Ponder over it & if I can make further suggestions, let me know

Julius Bing

I enclose an outline of the main idea in a map.

I further enclose a string of sentences, which express part of the ideas.

Popes, Bishops; Christ
Peter the Hermit
Walter the Pennyless
Godefroi de Bouillon8
Richard Coeur de Lion
Louis IX

period of enthusiasm & martyrdom

& & &



rise of art of navigation & [gunpowder?] industry speculation

decline of religious enthusiasm

further rise of navigation. Columbus–America

death of religious enthusiasm

Christians remain in bondage to Turks. Damnation!

Ages elapse; suffering; woes; Greek war of independence

Clay & Webster begin to discharge American

debt of gratitude.

Cretan war of independence.

All despots conspiring against Crete

American more alive than ever to her debt

Walt Whitman's poem.

Revival of moral enthusiasm! Down with the Turk!

America accomplishes the mission of the Crusades, interrupted by the event consequent upon her discovery.

Full two hundred years before Columbus came
The way to his advent was clearly traced
By the armadas thronged with Crusaders
Who drove the Moslem from the land of Christ.
While all Christian men & women too seized the pilgrim's staff
To wrest the hallowed East from Turkish grasp
Thrilled only with the Sermon on the Mount
and caring not for tracing hidden empires
It so happened that their wrestlings with the seas
opened new vistas to ships & the art of navigation.
Genoa, Venice & Spain were most busy on that craft
Their swift sailors spread dismay in Moslem camps
Even as in these days the Syran Candiot sloops
But mark! this sea alliance of Italy & Spain
Stretches far beyond the Saviour's tomb
Columbus was its immaculate conception
and a new world thus linked with old Palestine

Peter the Hermit & Walter the Penniless little dreamt
That their rhapsodies would give a lift to sailors
and wings to the cross-examiners of the sea
Until the Genoese struck upon these shores
To communicate this mystic bond between East & West
which the Voge's & Castilian fleets9 had initiated in olden times
Alas! greed soon followed in the train of enterprise
The crusaders degenerated into traders
The Turk desecrated the tomb of Christ
and built his Harems in the Holy Virgin's land.

New centuries have since come & gone
But the old bond between East & West survives
When Arcade fell with thousand Christian martyrs
& Men & women gave their mete to Crete
Then the old bond revives with all its mystic charm.
Pilgrim Rock & Calvary, Crusaders & Columbus
and all the chivalric, holy trinity of them get revived
To do in our days & in our quiet way
What was done of yore in turmoil & confusion
So great is the result of the Genoese's adventure
That our influence transcends all the armies of all the Crusaders
Let us pay the debt we owe to these great souls
Where monarched Europe failed, let free Columbia win.
Let our nation give the honour of fellowship to Crete
To Crete delivered from the Turkish yoke
And by a divine law of gravitation
They consummate the work in which Saint Louis was foiled.
The enterprise that killed mediaeval rapture built up our Continent
Our bounties shall yet atone for a guilt that brought us into being
The Turk need not complain for he had his spree
And more than this: when he is [hurled?] back to Asian wilds
He may then apply what he was [taught?] by Greek & Cretan.
But he shall no longer rule in Christian lands
His time is up; even Stanley sounds his death-knell
Let him not stand upon the [order?] of his giving, but go,—
Crete redeemed shall lead the way to Holy Sepulchre
And upon the grave of Him of Nazareth
America fold her star-spangled mighty banner
Are Popes, Sultans, Kings the only anointed of the Lord
Or are we so given up to policy & pelf
And join the sceptic who decried the age
Let the People resolve to oust the Turk
& we, too may have our age of Christian divinity

Julius Bing was a social reformer appointed as clerk of the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment in early 1867. Bing wrote more than twenty articles on the civil service, which were published in the North American Review and Putnam's Magazine. Little is known about Bing, and although this letter suggests that Walt Whitman had written to Bing at least once before, no other correspondence between the two is currently extant. Whitman explored in some unpublished manuscripts the suggestions Bing made about a poem referencing the Crusades but is not known to have published such a work. See also Art Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968), 40–49.


1. This letter has not been located. [back]

2. Saint Louis IX of France (1214–1270) ruled as king of France from 1226–1270 and participated in the Seventh and Eighth Crusades (1248 and 1270). [back]

3. Richard I of England (1157–1199), better known as Richard the Lionheart (Cœur de Lion), led the Third Crusade (1189–1192) and defeated the forces of Saladin (1138?–1193) but failed to conquer Jerusalem. [back]

4. Peter the Hermit (1050?–1115) was a priest who led members of the People's Crusade (a faction of the First Crusade in 1096) to the Holy Land. When his followers were killed by Seljuk forces in the winter of 1096, Peter never returned from a supply run to Constantinople but instead joined Godfrey of Bouillon before attempting to desert. [back]

5. Walter Sans Avoir, known as Walter the Penniless, was a French knight of the First Crusade. He was killed by the Turks in 1096. [back]

6. La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) is an epic poem by Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595). First published in 1581, the poem depicts the Christian forces of the First Crusade (1096–1099) in a hard-won triumph against the Muslims at Jerusalem. [back]

7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Lord Byron (1788–1824), and Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) all composed works that presented the Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) as romantically infatuated with Eleonora, the sister of Duke Alfonso II of Ferrara (1533–1597). [back]

8. Godfrey of Bouillon (1060?–1100) was a French noble who led the First Crusade to Jerusalem from 1096 until his death four years later. After the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Godfrey assumed rulership of the city but declined the title of "king" for religious reasons. [back]

9. The reference to the "Castilian fleet" dates back to the Middle Ages prior to the unification of the two main kingdoms (Aragon and Castile) that essentially made up Spain, both of which had developed powerful fleets at the time. Castile had developed its naval capabilities during the reconquista against the Moors, achieving many victories including the capture of Cadiz in 1232 and the 1402 conquest of the Canary Islands for Henry III of Castile. Perhaps its most notable achievement was its arrival in the Americas, which resulted from an ongoing race of exploration between Castile and Portugal. [back]


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