Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to John Addington Symonds, 27 January 1872

Date: January 27, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01702

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 2:158–159. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

sent in steamer
Jan 27, '721

J. A. Symonds,2

Not knowing whether it will reach you, I will however write a line to acknowledge the receipt of your beautiful & elevated "Love & Death," and of the friendly letter from you, of October 7th last.3 I have read & re-read the poem, & consider it of the loftiest, strongest & tenderest.4 Your letter was most welcome to me. I should like to know you better, & I wish you to send me word should this reach you—if the address is the right one. I wish to forward you a copy of my book—as I shall presently bring out a new edition.

I am, as usual, in good health, and continue to work here in Washington in a government office, finding it not unpleasant—finding, in it, indeed sufficient and free margin.

Pray dont think hard of me for not writing more promptly. I have thought of you more than once, & am deeply touched with your poem.5


1. This draft letter is endorsed, "letter to J. A. Symonds, went Jan 27, 1872." [back]

2. (1840–1893), author of Renaissance in Italy (1875–1886) and Walt Whitman—A Study (1893), translator of Michelangelo's sonnets, and a minor poet. [back]

3. On the title page of Love and Death appeared: "To the Prophet Poet | Of Democracy Religion Love | This Verse | A Feeble Echo of His Song | Is Dedicated." Symonds noted in his letter of October 7, 1871 that his poem "is of course implicit already in your Calamus, especially in 'Scented herbage of my breast.'" The printer's proof of the poem is in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. On December 8, 1872, Symonds wrote to Swinburne, somewhat abjectly, to implore his opinion of his poems: "I sent Walt Whitman the one called 'Love & Death,' & he graciously accepted it as a tribute to the author of Calamus. Yet no one on whose critical faculty I could rely has judged them" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). [back]

4. Walt Whitman deleted: "I must apologize, & profoundly too, for not having written to you before." [back]

5. Encouraged by Walt Whitman's reply, Symonds wrote on February 7, 1872, begging for clarification of "athletic friendship." On February 25, 1872, he sent Walt Whitman "Callicsates," a poem which, like Stoddard's sketches, has homosexual overtones. Perhaps because Symonds pressed too hard, as he was to do again later, for information about the Calamus poems, Walt Whitman did not reply; see Symonds' letter of June 13, 1875[back]


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